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Projet d'architecture 5.11 : UN - Urban Nature

academic year

Course teacher(s)

Mar Nadia CASABELLA ALVAREZ (Coordinator) and Axel FISHER

ECTS credits


Language(s) of instruction

english, french

Course content

The UN – Urban Nature teaching unit is a "vertical" architectural design studio open to Bachelor "continuation" students (see dedicated syllabus: 3.11), Master 1 (see dedicated syllabus: 4.11) and Master 2 (see dedicated syllabus: 5.11).

UN – Urban Nature is based on a reconfiguration between urbanization and nature, between humans and non-humans in the way we inhabit the Earth.
Modernity, founded on a "great divide" between humans and the animated earth, has established a distance between human habitat and nature, evident in the organization of cities as much as the countryside, and which may today have lost its raison d'être.
More than the application of familiar tools and solutions, UN – Urban Nature is intended as a space for an "imperfect, holistic exploration of a holistic problem that is beyond us", in order to learn how to imagine an approach to architecture and urban planning that might incorporate a paradigm shift.

The majority of the world's population now lives in cities. Cities are rightly regarded as a constructed, artificial environment, often seemingly cut off from nature. Yet few cities escape the extreme conditions that nature imposes on them, whether it's dust storms in Dubai, snow in New York or floods in Paris. Nature intrudes on cities and adapts to them, taking advantage of the opportunities they offer and seeking new opportunities to reproduce. In turn, cities modify the natural systems and biogeochemistry of their environment. The scale of this modification of nature has accelerated over the last fifty years. Whereas cities originally depended on their immediate environment for food and supplies, they now depend on increasingly extensive territories and networks to satisfy their metabolic needs. Today, 60% of the world's urban population relies on rural hinterlands for 80-90% of its material and energy needs.

So, the "city" is not so much opposed to nature as interwoven with it.
What then of the age-old opposition that defined cities as the artificial environment par excellence, from which nature (its hazards, its dangers, etc.) is excluded?
What is to be made of the city/countryside dichotomy now that the survival of cities depends on territories that are increasingly vast and remote, linked by complex supply chains and proliferating ad infinitum: can these territories still be described as "rural", in the traditional sense of a subordinate territory, lagging behind in terms of progress and fundamentally under-valued by architects?
Does the notion of "rural" still have any validity when it comes to apprehending the reality of these outlying territories, haunted by their past and shaken by the contemporary dynamics of global interconnection?

UN – Urban Nature takes part in the NeRu project (newruralities.eu), an Erasmus+ cooperative partnership (2022-25) between 6 teams of teachers and their students from as many European universities: ULB, Politecnico di Torino (Italy), Universidade da Coruña (Spain), Universidade do Minho (Portugal), Universitet Po Architektura Stroitelstvo I Geodezija of Sofia (Bulgaria), and ETH Zürich (Switzerland).
NeRu aims to reconceptualize rural territories beyond the city-country opposition, identified as one of the causes of the current climate crisis, in order to enrich training programs for architects and urban planners.

This 2023–24 academic year, the UN – Urban Nature studio's work starts from the hypothesis that these territories are traversed by a pre-modern, pre-industrial layer that persists in the form of GHOSTS: the vestiges and signs of past ways of life still charged in the present. As humans reshape the landscape, we forget what was there before: our newly shaped and ruined landscapes becoming the new reality. If we want to see more clearly, we need to learn to identify and locate those GHOSTS pointing to the past, signaling our forgetting, and providing a substrate from where to actualize our present.

Our place of exploration is the coastal plain between Zeebrugge (B) and Breskens (NL), reaching inland to Bruges (B), Damme (B), Oostburg (NL), and Schoondijke (NL). About three thousand years ago, this area was governed by natural, geological processes, like storm surges and the ebb and flow of a turbulent sea. The present-day coastal plain is the result of a combination of anthropic interventions starting over 1,000 years ago, and long-term sea tidal movements carrying sediments, eroding, and altering the sea level. Hence a landscape of forever negotiation that, as late as the sixteenth century, still saw parts of it disappeared under the sea. And today a place traversed by a dense network of infrastructures aimed at controlling all possible hazards, which will be compared to other coastal locations in the context of the NeRu project (newruralities.eu).

Dedicated page on the website of the Faculty of architecture La Cambre Horta: https://archi.ulb.be/un-urban-nature

Objectives (and/or specific learning outcomes)

UN – Urban Nature contributes to perfecting the specific learning outcomes expected of Architectural Project courses.
As a minimum expectation, the skills and learnings to be confirmed by M.Arch-1 students are those already expected to be gained at the end of the Bachelor in Architecture cycle, as set out in the "BA3 jury" assessment grid (see downloadable file below):
  • Spatial dimensioning
  • Architectural composition
  • Uses
  • Scales
  • Subject
  • Oral
  • Representation
In addition to these minimum requirements, Master of Architecture students will develop advanced autonomy and synthesis skills, a critical grasp of the problem(s) addressed, creativity and originality, demonstrating their ability to enter the professional world after graduation.
M.Arch-2 students will be invited to focus their work on the themes of "long lines" and "threads".

Teaching methods and learning activities

The UN – Urban Nature unit adopts the "design studio" pedagogical device, made of bi-weekly classes alternately devoted to structured presentations by teachers, contributions by external guests, site or exhibition visits, short, well-defined exercises (reading seminar, "lodge" for production of a well-defined product, . ...), group discussions, individual and/or group work sessions, "correction" sessions for students' work, and participation in cultural events outside the class timetable (conferences, etc.).
More specific "formative" assessment assignments are also proposed; their purpose, modalities and deadlines are communicated by the teachers in class.
The presentation of these works to teachers and other students is subject to constructive assessments.
Ultimately, all these activities contribute to the production of a spatial transformation proposal.

Contribution to the teaching profile

The UN – Urban Nature unit contribues to the "Master en architecture" teaching profile insofar as it focuses on the production of one or more concrete architectural projects.
The projects produced as part of the UN – Urban Nature unit will provide an opportunity to test the ability of Masters of Architecture to synthesize the following skills:
A. Designing an architectural project
  • Investigate an architectural question;
  • Develop a spatial response;
  • Implement a situated spatial response;
  • Experiment and be inventive;
B. Developing a reflexive attitude that enriches spatial responses
  • Know the arguments that underpin the specificity of architectural language;
  • Master the theoretical and methodological foundations of the disciplines associated with architecture: human and social sciences, science and technology, art and culture;
  • Integrate these essential resources;
  • Produce and transmit spatial expertise using skills acquired in the disciplines of representation and communication;
  • Problematize research questions in scientific terms and be able to communicate them.
C. Build, as an architect, a civic commitment and an ethical and responsible practice;
  • Consider architecture as a cultural discipline in perpetual renewal, in constant relation with the evolution of artistic practices and social experimentation.
  • Identify, understand and deconstruct the obvious, opinions and commonplaces;
  • Understand the social, political and ethical issues involved in architectural projects;
  • Understand the players involved in the architectural production process;
  • Make committed, autonomous choices;
  • Adapt to the diversity of professional practice conditions, and even reinvent them;
  • Open up to the world
D. Interact with all players involved in issues of space and architecture
  • Demonstrate the ability to listen, analyze and summarize
  • Stimulate experimentation and creativity to find ad hoc answers to collective challenges;
  • Communicate information, thoughts and ideas on architectural issues and their spatial resolution, in a clear and structured manner, to both informed and uninformed audiences.

References, bibliography, and recommended reading

Recommanded readings
  • Allaert, G. Leinfelder, H., Vanden Abeele, P., Verhoestraete, D. (2005). Water (management) as a decisive factor in the land use planning of agriculture in an urbanising context. European Regional Science Association, ERSA conference papers. LINK
  • Allaert, G., Leinfelder, H., Vanden Abeele, P., & Verhoestraete, D. (2006). Hoe boeren agrarische ondernemers werden: naar een ruimtelijke planning van agro-industriële landschappen op maat van aanwezige dynamieken. RUIMTE EN PLANNING, 26(4), 10–23. LINK
  • Ashworth, G.J. (1992). Planning the Coastal Zone in Belgium. In: Dutt, A.K., Costa, F.J. (eds) Perspectives on Planning and Urban Development in Belgium. The GeoJournal Library, vol 22. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-2577-4_6
  • Berger, J. (1979). Pig earth, New York – London, Pantheon Books – Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative
  • Bert Pijnenburg & Menno J. Van Duin (1990) The Zeebrugge ferry disaster. Elements of a communication and information processes scenario, CONTEMPORARY CRISES  14, 321–349. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00728504
  • Charlier, R.H., Charlier, C.C. (2018). Venice-of-the-North’s Ups and Downs: A Brief History of the Port City of Bruges, Belgium. In: Finkl, C., Makowski, C. (eds) Diversity in Coastal Marine Sciences. Coastal Research Library, vol 23. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-57577-3_36
  • Cividino, H. (2012) Architectures agricoles : la modernisation des fermes, 1945-1999. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes. [en bibliothèque]
  • Cividino, H. (2018). Nouvelles architectures agricoles : nouvelles agricultures. Antony : Editions Le Moniteur. [en bibliothèque]
  • Clément, G. (c2004, 2022). Manifesto of the Third Landscape, TEH Series on new imaginaries #3, Trans Europe Halles. LINK
  • ing, N., Hein, C. (eds.) (2020) The Urbanisation of the Sea; nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.
  • Debaise, D. & Stengers, I. (2016). L’insistance des possibles: Pour un pragmatisme spéculatif. Multitudes, 65, 82-89. https://doi.org/10.3917/mult.065.0082
  • Douvere, F. (2005). Socio-Economic Value of the Human Activities in the Marine Environment: The Belgian Case. In: Maes, F. (eds) Marine Resource Damage Assessment. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-3368-0_10
  • Everaert, J., Stienen, E.W.M. Impact of wind turbines on birds in Zeebrugge (Belgium). Biodivers Conserv 16, 3345–3359 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-006-9082-1
  • Koolhaas, R.; Bantal, S. 2020. Countryside: A Report (exhibition catalogue: Guggenheim Museum). Taschen. [en bibliothèque]
  • Krzysztofowicz, M., Rudkin, J., Winthagen, V. and Bock, A., (2020) Farmers of the future, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, https://doi.org/10.2760/680650
  • Gan, E. Tsing, A., Swanson, H., Bubandt, N. (2017) “Introduction: Haunted Landscapes of the Anthropocene”, in ID. (eds.) Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, University of Minnesota Press
  • Lannoy, D. (1974) . Het landschapsvormende proces van onze kustvlakte, CNOCKE IS HIER, 03, 19-23. LINK
  • Lescrauwaet, AK., Fockedey, N., Debergh, H. et al. Hundred and eighty years of fleet dynamics in the Belgian sea fisheries. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries 23, 229–243 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11160-012-9287-1
  • Library University, Uyttenhoven, P. (2015). Recollecting Landscapes [website]. http://www.recollectinglandscapes.be/en-general
  • Lovelock, J., Margulis, L. (1972) Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis. TELLUS, 26: 2-10. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2153-3490.1974.tb01946.x
  • Marot, S. 2019. Taking the country's side : agriculture and architecture (exhibition catalogue), Lisbon Architecture Triennale. [en bibliothèque]
  • Stouthamer, E., Cohen, K. (2020). Berendsen - Fysische geografie van Nederland - De vorming van het land. Perspectief Uitgevers.
  • Uyttenhoven, P., Vanbelleghem, D., Van Bouwel, I., Nottenboom, B., Debergh, R., Willequet, B. (2018). Recollecting Landscapes - Rephotography, Memory and Transformation 1904–1980-2004-2014. Roma Publications.
  • Vanneste, P.; Hooft, E.; Callaert, G. (2005) Heist geschiedenis, [online], Inventaris Onroerend Erfgoed. https://id.erfgoed.net/themas/14394
  • Verdier, M. 2012. "Architectes et urbanistes en campagne... Réinventer un urbanisme rural?", Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, vidéo en ligne, https://dai.ly/x11sd0w
  • Verhulst, A. (2000) Historische ontwikkeling van het kustlandschap, VLAANDEREN. KUNSTTIJDSCHRIFT 49, 135. LINK
  • Wintein, W. (2003a). Ontstaan en evolutie van het landschap in de Zwinstreek (DEEL 1), ROND DE POLDERTORENS 1, 3-36, LINK
  • Wintein, W. (2003b). Ontstaan en evolutie van het landschap in de Zwinstreek (DEEL 1), ROND DE POLDERTORENS 1, 18-36. LINK
  • Woods, M. (2010) Rural. New York: Routledge. [en bibliothèque]

Other information

Additional information

Mandatory activity:

On-site stay from Friday September 22 to Sunday September 24, 2023 inclusive (Duzele youth hostel, between Bruges and Zeebrugge). Accommodation and meals provided by the NeRu-New Ruralities project, travel expenses paid by students.

Teaching language:

To enable those students who do not have the opportunity to participate in an international mobility program, those who wish to do so in future, or those who wish to improve their language skills, activities in the UN - Urban Nature unit are taught mainly in English. However, French may be used as a second language, wherever appropriate.
No level of English is required for participation in the UN - Urban Nature unit, but a level of C1 on the European Language Passport self-assessment grid is recommended (see grid).
Spanish (Nadia Casabella) and Italian (Axel Fisher) can also be used to facilitate exchanges with and integration of students from abroad.

Teaching team:
  • Term 1 (September-December 2023): Nadia Casabella & François Vliebergh
  • Term 2 (February-May 2024): Nadia Casabella & Axel Fisher



Flagey, Solbosch


Method(s) of evaluation

  • Project


Two types of assessment are used:

  1. A continuous "formative" assessment of the work carried out by the student (with intermediate submissions, on agreed dates, of the progress of work, and group and individual projects) and his/her active and committed participation during workshop sessions. These formative assessments will be communicated to students throughout the year, at key moments, with a summary at the end of the first term. These notes will enable students to "situate" themselves over the course of each term and the year. Teachers reserve the right to over- or under-rate formative grades for pedagogical reasons, mainly to motivate students.
  2. Certifying" assessments at the end of each term.
For some of these evaluation sessions, teachers will set up a "(design studio) jury", made up of invited personalities (other teachers in the program, figures from the professional world, representatives of public administrations, decision-makers, etc.). Students present their work to this jury, which evaluates it. This jury is distinct from the deliberation jury, which is made up solely of faculty members, and is instead responsible for assessing the student's entire year and cycle. The purpose of the "(design studio) jury" is to confront the students to the evaluation of his or her future peers and clients, and to objectivize the acquisition of the learning skills and their professional and societal relevance.

The works of M.Arch-2 students must also meet at least the evaluation criteria common to the Faculty's architectural project studios for the Bachelor of Architecture level.
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Mark calculation method (including weighting of intermediary marks)

"Formative" assessments do not contribute to the construction of the final grade. Under no circumstances can they be considered an indisputable indicator of the foreseen final grade.
The course's final grade is based exclusively on the "certificative" assessments, which will take into account students' progress and ability to synthesize their learning achievements.

Certificative assessments are weighted as follows:

Certificate evaluation of term 1: 40% of the yearly grade
  • Considers work during Term 1 in the studio: 40% (grade awarded by teachers in consideration of the cognitive AND behavioural skills demonstrated by the student).
    A "design studio jury" may be organized at the end of term 1, and will be considered a "formative" evaluation that will be considered by the teachers in establishing the "certificative" evaluation of the term.
For M.Arch-2 students enrolled only in term 1, the Term 1's mark will constitute the course's final grade.
Certificate evaluation of term 1: 60% of the yearly grade:
  • work during Term 2 in the studio: 30% (grade awarded by teachers in consideration of the cognitive AND behavioural skills demonstrated by the student)
  • Final jury: 30% (grade awarded by teachers and members of the "(design studio) jury" on the basis of the BA3 jury evaluation grid)
For M.Arch-2 students enrolled only in term 2, the course's final grade is weighed as follows:
  • work during Term 2 in the studio: 55% (grade awarded by teachers in consideration of the cognitive AND behavioural skills demonstrated by the student)
  • Final jury: 45% (grade awarded by teachers and members of the "(design studio) jury" on the basis of the BA3 jury evaluation grid)
The course's final note results of the weighed arithmetic average of these certificative assessments.

Language(s) of evaluation

  • english
  • partially in english
  • (if applicable french, Italian, Spanish, Galician )