Material Circulation and the City

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete
Sanna Kattenbeck
Sebastiaan Loosen
Hamish Lonergan
Grégoire Bridel

Belgium and Switzerland

In spring semester FS22, the Seminar Week of the Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design with the topic of ‘Material Circulation and the City’ brought us to Belgium and Switzerland to learn about current practices of material reuse in architectural practice through firms such as Rotor DC, BC Materials/BC Architects, Conix RDBM Architects, and Baubüro In Situ; the use of materials in Brussels’ art nouveau; current-day research on material recycling and repurposing at VUB Brussels and Empa, Dübendorf; bottom-up and municipally supported initiatives promoting a circular economy in Leuven; the role of the construction sector through timber company Husner, Frick; the ongoing construction of Isla Architects’ pavilion for Basel’s Architekturwoche; and Zürich’s own material history through our student-led urban material walk.

We focused on the circulation of materials in the production of the city and explored how material resources influence the aesthetic, construction, and craft cultures of the city. By looking at projects and initiatives by Belgian and Swiss architectural firms and municipalities, we investigated both historical and contemporary practices of material reuse and ‘urban mining’, and how architectural practices can be reconceptualized to support a circular economy. Thus, the seminar week aimed to offer students insights into the diverse handling of materials in architecture and the cultural, political, and social aspects of materiality in the production of the city. Through drawing, writing, reading, and discussing, students learned to approach the subject matter analytically and to expand their disciplinary knowledge in architectural research. The seminar week expands on this semester’s Avermaete Research Studio, which in the spring semester 2022 focused on Zürich’s material commons.

The photos were taken by Sanna Kattenbeck

This seminar week took place during Spring 2022