Rethinking the dispersed city paradigm by exploring the strategic nodes of its (physical) networks.
Design strategies at the intermediate scale for the next urban constellation.

In the binary opposition of city and land, dispersed territories are often considered the unwanted “spillover” effect of urbanisation. However, the dispersed spatial condition of Flanders, and by larger extent the area stretching from Lille (France) to Rotterdam (The Netherlands) cannot be categorised as a “peri-urban” condition and was therefore coined All City/All Land (AC/AL). On the contrary, it is an alternative condition of urbanity enabled by an underlying support system of physical (whether or not visible) networks such as waterways, roads, public transportation, energy distribution. Although enabling interesting relational configurations, this type of land use and corresponding urbanisation principles are reaching a tipping point, resulting in numerous unwanted effects (e.g. flooding, traffic congestions, impending electricity shortage).

In the light of the contemporary sustainability debate, the demand for alternatives to the current approach of end-of-the-pipe-solutions and symptom management in AC/AL is pressing. The formulation of alternative futures requires rethinking the reciprocal relations between man and land in order to address a number of distorted spatial synergies. Only recently, a number of authors in the fields of architecture and urban design have started to valorise the inherent potential of territories of dispersion. However, to date, little is known about the design potential of the underlying supportive structures i.e. the finely meshed physical networks and their nodes, which are of vital importance when addressing an urban transformation in AC/AL. The general objective of this research by design is to build further upon this recent tradition to generate insights on the design potential of networks and nodes in reshaping the reciprocal relations in AC/AL.

In this doctoral research, the Eurometropolis region (which covers Flemish, Walloon and French territory) is outlined as a research area, within which a number of relevant cases are selected. This is done through the analysis of networks of water, mobility and energy: networks with a direct spatial impact, relative inertia and a protagonists’ role in addressing the future of AC/AL. The cases include the investigation of nodes at the intermediate scale, because serving as a link, these nodes address both the regional network of the network and the local reality. Throughout the research a mixed-method approach is applied, relying upon methodological triangulation, in order to cross-check research outcomes across the fields of academics, urban design and stakeholders. The expected outcome is a series of design strategies at the intermediate scale for its next urban constellation of AC/AL.


keywords: dispersed territories, networks, urban transformation, intermediate scale, All City/All Land, Flanders


PhD Project by Drs. Sophie Leemans (promotor: Prof. Dr. Maarten Gheysen; co-promotor: Prof. Dr. Erik Van Daele)



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