location_ Leeuwarden, Nederland
project year_ 2015
competition_ 2nd Prize, Europan 13
from the architects_
Leeuwarden is a small city located in northern Netherlands, in the region of Friesland. The old town has the typical elements of medium-scale Dutch cities: a dense urban structure, 3 to 5-storey residential buildings with large windows and pitched roofs, a pacified public space, some canals, etc.
In theory, everything is fine in Leeuwarden… but some studies warn that, as happens in other medium-scale Dutch cities, in the recent years the activity in the city center is decreasing. This results in a growing number of vacant flats and premises causing a general deterioration of urban life. It is yet an almost imperceptible emerging phenomenon, but the City Council wants to solve it as soon as possible.
We see this situation as an opportunity to activate and regenerate the urban life through a set of actions implemented at small and medium scale, affecting both the public and the private space, aimed to redirect some dynamics that, from our point of view, have put Leeuwarden in the current impasse.
We propose a catalog of actions (‘urban prescriptions’) that can be exported beyond the project area, to urban environments with similar problems and opportunities as in Leeuwarden. Actions aimed not so much to transform the image of the city but the way in which people use it. Actions that deal with issues as diverse as housing, public services, collective memory or leisure. Interventions that, absolutely identified with a janejacobsian attitude (‘cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody’), put the citizen in the foreground and must necessarily have their complicity.
These interventions, with various degrees of complexity and, therefore, different implementation schedules (from ‘right now’ to ‘within a few decades’), can be classified into 7 groups:
– Transformation of the inner courtyards. Resetting the productive and vegetal condition that originally had the inner courtyards by introducing uses as urban gardens, tree plantations, etc. Introducing closed consumption cycles (production-sale-consumption).
– Towards a new water culture. Strengthening links between water and citizenship. Recovering traces of former canals in order to create a urban irrigation network. Defining citizenship leisure spaces linked to canals.
– Reoccupation of vacant premises. Reversing the current dynamics of commercial relocation towards large areas outside the old town by promoting the implementation of strategic uses (for example, new university centers) distributed in different empty premises in the city center.
– Reoccupation of empty plots. Avoiding ‘gaps of use’ through different strategies: from fast and cheap occupations (Aldo Van Eyck’s playgrounds as main reference) to more structural and long term actions (greenhouses, temporary structures, etc.).
– New ways of inhabiting. Avoiding loss of population (especially young people) to the suburbs by creating diverse and affordable housing: new typologies (studio-housing, collective spaces for temporary accommodation, …), an efficient rental and exchange network, etc.
– Towards a green and interactive public space. ‘Demineralizing’ the old town by introducing green areas, for example, through the transformation of the canal banks into green slopes. Creating urban routes with interactive info in order to link historical and cultural landmarks.
– Towards a flexible public space. Designing public space as a flexible and easily transformable support which can incorporate different uses and atmospheres depending on the time of the year or the day of the week.