1. Accueil
  2. EN
  3. Studying at ULB
  4. Find your course
  5. UE

Projet d'architecture 3.11 : 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 design unit 3.11 / 4.11 / 5.11: UN – Urban Nature focuses on a reconfiguration between humans and non-humans in our cities. The notion of Anthropocene (or a new geological epoch, defined by an unprecedented human disturbance of the earth's ecosystems) can be credited for revealing how we are today inextricably linked to the other inhabitants of our planet, both humans and non-humans, and how we have no other choice but to take this into account and change our anthropocentric worldview. However, the "Great (Human vs. Nature) Divide”, inherited from modern thought, prevents us from feeling intimately linked to the living earth. This distancing stands at the root of the construction human inhabitation since the dawn of time, and has only been exasperated by the industrial revolution, with its emergence of hygienism and the expulsion of all on-human living entities to the city outskirts. Whereas in the countryside, the modernisation of agriculture has, in the Western world, progressively reduced the number of workers involved in agricultural production, producing first a massive exodus to the cities, then, under the pressure of suburbanisation, a gradual shift from rural to urban lifestyles even in the countryside. Urbanism (ie. urban planning and design) is therefore historically dependent of this distancing between humans and non-humans, which, as relevant and legitimate as it may have been back then, may very well have lost its raison d'être today.

Designing differently our cities and countrysides therefore implies reconceptualizing both notions beyond the human, making the effort to “ecologyze” both ourselves and our way of thinking, ie. shifting the focus of attention of our professional and intellectual practice in order to make new modes of existence possible where ecology is no longer the “out-there” without connection with us, but is the place where we breathe, where we fight.
The title of this design studio alludes to these questions from a twofold perspective: what is the nature of the urban and what is nature in the urban? Can we still accept both terms as opposed and continue to inhabit “infernal alternatives” which end up paralyzing us: people vs. biodiversity, sanctuarized nature vs. city, romanticized countryside vs. hostile urban life, autonomous architecture vs. situated urbanism?

Urban Nature unfolds as place and space of an “imperfect holistic exploration of a holistic problem that is beyond us” rather than as a quest for applying of ready-made tools directly addressing well-defined symptoms. To this aim, both conventional and original tools (maps, models, participating observations, workshops, dialogue of actors and contrasting knowledge, etc.) are tested and adapted, following Deleuze and Guattari's invitation to “think through the milieu”, that is to say without either pursuing an abstract ideal goal nor without separating the object of investigation from the environment it requires to exist.
The endeavor, no doubt risky, seems urgent to us to suture the modern divide that keeps us away from the entities which contribute to keep the planet inhabitable. Indeed, the survival of humans today is, more than ever, intrinsically linked to the actions of non-humans. We cannot imagine or think of an inhabitable world made of sustainable cities without including everything that makes the world with us.

This year 2022-23, we envisage collaboration within the frame of the Erasmus+ cooperation agreement NERU–New Ruralities. Specifically, the studio's activities will deal with:

  • During Semester 1: a site in the Aosta Valley (Italy) in collaboration with the Politecnico di Torino;
  • During Semester 2: two sites in Belgium (municipal area of Sugny in Wallonia, and "Vrijgeweid" in Flanders).
Throughout each semester, exchanges with teaching staff and students from the 6 partners universities in NERU will be organised.
An intensive workshop will also be proposed to a limited number of interested students (paid travel and accommodation), during the summer (with possibility to gain ECTS credits).
These collaboration will allow to develop a multicultural gaze and establish a comparative perspective on the general topic. They will also allow to improve language skills in English, teaching language of the Studio.

See more on the dedicated page on the Faculty's website: https://archi-ulb-be.ezproxy.ulb.ac.be/un-urban-nature

Objectives (and/or specific learning outcomes)

Whereas design education within our Faculty is generally approached from the point of view of the disciplinary integration within the “design project”, hence with an emphasis on the “how-to”, the Design studio 3.11 / 4.11 / 5.11: UN – Nature aims at slightly shifintg this focus towards issues such as “where-to”, “what-to / who-for”, “why-for”, which we believe are just as important in the education of architects.


Architecture is about being “somewhere”. It’s knowing where you are and how to belong to that “somewhere”. It is this “where” that intrigues us the most and this “where” of architecture is a reality that is far from easily apprehended. You can take pictures of it, draw a plan, sketch a cut... But this information may not be enough to feel “somewhere”. This “somewhere” is woven with long narrative threads that take us from the geological formation of a place, its substrate, to the networks of services that support it or to the history of its occupation/dwelling.

All explorations are possible as long as they allow us to “land”, as Bruno Latour suggests. The first methodological ambition is therefore to make the bodily experience, to identify, represent, understand the places before transforming them.


Work in the design unit is therefore seen as a form of knowledge production (or Deweyan inquiry). This production constantly makes choices, most of the time it is heuristic choices, derived from previous experiences. But there is nothing innocent about these choices. First of all, these spatial choices are intertwined with the material world around us, its material configurations: no practice exists in a vacuum, but it is located and contingent. Second, these choices reveal or reflect the way society imagines itself living in the future. By designing places, we are not only apprehending the world but more in shaping it in a particular way. And by doing so, we exclude ways of living there as well. 

What for?

Architecture is about the transformation of places. But why should we achieve these transformations? What are we trying to change and why? Rather than developing projects in terms of solutions, we propose to bring the questioning itself into play. To Jacques Lucan's annoyance at the “irresistible rise of landscapers” in France in the 1990s, Sébastien Marot did not answer simply: they may not have the solutions, but they have the merit of stating the right questions, of asking the problems. This problematization requires exploring different possibilities and rethinking existing frameworks, inviting students to free themselves from existing norms and to reframe them. We choose for a pedagogy of emancipation, therefore, rather than explanation, developing a curious and stimulating research, along with opening questions by experimenting, manufacturing, manipulating.

For whom?

“Seeing the Planet as [our] client” (Farrell and McNamara, 2017) involves redefining the “subjects” of the architectural project. The debate on biodiversity in cities is in tune with the times, and increasing the opportunities for cohabitation with wildlife therefore seems an obvious imperative for both the urban and architectural project. Post-humanist thought (beyond-humanism / more-than-humanism) however invites to consider fauna, and other elements of nature (flora, site, climate) as “minorities”. From this point of view, “seeing the planet as [our] client” is equivalent to broadening the field of beneficiaries and uses of architecture: animals small and large, crawling and flying, root plants but also rhizomatic, edible and not, but also all those “humans” who still, in function of their age, gender, ethnicity or social status, and despite of everything, will constitute minorities too.

New agents and alliances

The ambition to understand and care for what exists, and the contingent way it has followed to be what it is, requires us to realize that we are part of it. To understand this “something”, this “somewhere” is also to be affected by it. But “cohabiting” implies in a certain way “being one with”, weaving assemblages and ecologies based on architectural solutions that are more flexible, recyclable, “metabolic”, fair and equitable, or simply inviting and collaborative. We, architects and urbanists, operate in a material world. We are fully “inside” it in our daily practices, influenced by the technologies and artifacts we use, reproducing asymmetric distributions of resources. We cannot continue to deny these entanglements.

Teaching methods and learning activities

We normally start with a guided tour of the site, a first confrontation with the reality of the site, introduced by the actors linked to the site and / or the task of the semester: architects, public authorities, citizens ... This visit allows us to identify what we value, what strikes us or fascinates us during our first contact with the site.

After this first visit, we all meet and review these things that have touched us the most. We bring together students with similar interests and they start a small survey (RUMMAGING phase) that will help them deepen the subject. In a second step (ASSEMBLING phase), the subject is explored by exposing the links it has with other things, which makes it "numerous" and articulated with its environment before deciding on an intervention that elaborates the first fascination.

Otherwise, the schedule is organized into a series of strict deadlines and design phases (the name of which is in English, the language of instruction of the workshop). Meeting these deadlines is the key to a relaxed evolution of each term. It also ensures a correct collectivization of the results among the workshop participants. In the workshop brochure, published online, you will find a full description of these phases and how they are articulated.

Contribution to the teaching profile

At the end of his training, the graduate of the Faculty of Architecture of the ULB will be able to design an architectural project:

A. Instructing an architectural question. This means to get hold of a given question and to translate it into architectural terms through the development of several hypotheses, putting in relation the different parameters of the question by means of an iterative approach.

B. Develop a spatial response through critical inquiry, relying both on specific constraints and values (environmental, landscape, artistic, cultural, socio-economic, ...), and mobilizing the discursive and graphic languages of the architecture discipline and its design tools.

C. Implement a spatially situated response, across the scales: from the object to the territory. This response should encompass the material context of the project, the associated resources it will deploy as well as the local constructive realities.

D. Experiment, show inventiveness, in the face of the encountered situations, whether technical, formal, social, collaborative ...

References, bibliography, and recommended reading

Abu Lughod, J. 1999. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. America’s Global Cities. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. [at library]

Ambroise, R. 2012. "Réinventer les paysages agricoles", Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, vidéo en ligne, https://dai.ly/x11scri

Cividino, H. (2012) Architectures agricoles : la modernisation des fermes, 1945-1999. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes. [at library]

Cividino, H. 2012. "Des fermes traditionnelles aux ateliers de production agricole : la mutation de l'architecture rurale au XXe siècle", Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, vidéo en ligne, https://dai.ly/x11sc6f

David, B. 2020. À l’aube de la Sixième extinction. Grasset. [at the publisher]

Deleuze, G. et Guattari, F. 1980. Capitalisme et schizophrénie, vol.2: Mille Plateaux. Paris, Editions de Minuit. [at library]

Dewey, J. 1967. Logique, la théorie de l’enquête. Paris. [at library]

Di Chiro et al. 2014. De l’univers clos au monde infini. Dehors. [at library]

Douglas, I. 2013. Cities. An Environmental History. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, NYC. [at the publisher]

Farrell, Y. , McNamara, S. 2017. FREESPACE MANIFESTO, 16th International Architecture Exhibition, Venise. https://www.labiennale.org/en/architecture/2018/introduction-yvonne-farrell-and-shelley-mcnamara

Haraway, D.J. 2015. « Sympoièse, SF, embrouilles multispécifiques », dans Debaise, D. et Stengers, I. (éds.), Gestes spéculatifs. Dijon, Les Presses du réel, pp. 4272. [at library]

Haraway, D.J. 2016. Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, Duke University Press. [at library] / [traduction fançaise at library]

Koolhaas, R.; Bantal, S. 2020. Countryside: A Report (exhibition catalogue: Guggenheim Museum). Taschen. [at library]

Latour, B. 2017. Où atterrir ? Comment s’orienter en politique. Éditions La Découverte. [at library]

Latour, B., Weibel, P. (eds.) 2020. Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth. Cambridge, The MIT Press. [at library]

Latour, B. 2021. Où suis-je ? Leçons du confinement à l’usage des terrestres. Les empêcheurs de penser en rond. [at library]

Le Couedic, D. 2012. "La maison d'une mise en scène régionale", Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, vidéo en ligne, https://dai.ly/x11scey

Lucan, J. 1995. « L'irrésistible ascension des paysagistes », AMC Le Moniteur Architecture, n°44. [at library]

Marot, S. 2019. Taking the country's side : agriculture and architecture (exhibition catalogue), Lisbon Architecture Triennale. [at library]

Marot, S. 1995. « L’alternative du paysage », Le Visiteur, n°1. [at library]

Moore, S.A., Karvonen, A. 2008. “Sustainable Architecture in Context: STS and Design Thinking”, Science Studies, 21(1): 29–46. https://doi-org.ezproxy.ulb.ac.be/10.23987/sts.55232

Stengers, I. 2013. Au temps des catastrophes : résister à la barbarie qui vient. Paris, La Découverte. [at library]

Stengers, I. 2012. “Reclaiming Animism”, e-flux Journal n°36. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61245/reclaiming-animism/

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

Woods, M. (2010) Rural. New York: Routledge. [at library]

Other information

Additional information

Teaching staff/instructors:


Contact person for teaching matters (daily management of activities, organisation of mid-term evaluaitons, ...) : Francois.vliebergh@ulb.be

Contact persons for administrative matters (enrollment, registration of marks, Faculty examination board …) : axel.fisher@ulb.be, nadia.casabella@ulb.be


Flagey, Outside campus ULB


Method(s) of evaluation

  • Practice work
  • Project
  • Oral presentation

Practice work


Oral presentation

The evaluation bears mainly on the consistency and relevance of the spatial proposal elaborated by the student or group of students in relation to the “research by design” trajectory they have developped throughout each semester. This evaluation also takes into account the quality of graphic documents and oral presentations.

The evaluation is composed of:

  • a “continuous evaluation” (= semester mark) delivered by the teaching staff/instructors, based on interactions throughout the studio sessions, presentations and intermediate presentations;
  • one or more evaluations by a jury composed of by teaching staff/instructors and invited guests.

The work of B.Arch-3 and M.Arch-2 students must also meet the evaluation criteria shared across the faculty’s design units.

Mark calculation method (including weighting of intermediary marks)

The final mark results of the simple arithmetic average of the continuous evaluation mark (50%) and final jury mark (50%).

The continuous evaluation mark (semester 1 =  20%; semester 2 =  30%) is built on the basis of the "adjusted" simple arithmetic average of the evaluation marks organized throughout the studio sessions. The teaching staff / instructors keep the right to adjust this average mark to incorporate the quality of attendance, regularity, engagement, and progression of the student throughout the semesters. Hence, the marks communicated to the students after each mid-term presentation only represents an indication of the estimated value of a student's work so far, and does not commit the teaching staff / instructors to assign a a final mark resuting from the simple average of the mid-term marks. In the case of works developed collectively by groups of students, the teaching staff / instructors may still assign differentiated marks on the basis of the above-mentioned criteria.

The final jury marks (semester 1 =  20%; semester 2 =  30%) are built on the basis of the simple arithmetic average of the marks graded by each jury member. The participation of invited guests is meant to objectify the evaluation of the teaching staff. Hence, the opinions of appreciations of jury members may diverge, since the practice of design is a highly speculative one, but are typically "smoothed" by averaging. The jury members have a "behind closed doors" meeting to examine potentially problematic situations and propose a mark which makes sense from a pedagogic perspective. In the case of works developed collectively by groups of students, the jury may still assign differentiated marks on the basis of the above-mentioned criteria.

The motivation and the pedagogic foundations of marks and evaluations are typically commuicated to student verbally. Any student may request a motivation by writing (by email) to his/her instructors. In the absence of such request, the student confirms to understand and accept the proposed evaluation and marks.

Language(s) of evaluation

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