Osmos, a spinoff from TURAS, uses a new multi-dimensional approach to great effect to build consensus on the regeneration of the Crown Barracks in Brussels
Urban regeneration projects are complex undertakings. They often involve changes in the physical configuration of buildings and neighbourhoods and the related technical and engineering choices. But they also intervene in contexts of structural economic change, for instance when urban regeneration happens in areas of industrial decline or functional discontinuities. This means that urban regeneration has to anticipate and envision what types of economic activities it wants to foster and which ones not. Finally, urban regeneration has an important social element as it potentially affects the sociodemographic composition of neighbourhoods. This not only engenders the spectre of gentrification, but also more generally means that urban regeneration has to understand the preferences and habits of the local community.
The vast majority of urban regeneration programmes lack the tools to take the urbanistic, engineering, economic and social dimensions into account according to new scientific evidence produced by Stephan Kampelmann, Sarah Van Hollebeke and Paula Vandergert in the context of the TURAS research on the urban regeneration programme of the city of Brussels. However, without findings ways to think more systematically about the multiple repercussions of urban regeneration, it is unlikely that such programmes can be successful.
In order to address this challenge, OSMOS Transition Planning has developed a process method that specifically addresses the multi-dimensionality of urban regeneration programmes. The process provides a practical way to collect the disparate knowledge of specialised disciplines (urbanism, engineering, economics etc) and condense the related narratives in comprehensive social-ecological system models that are co-created with the stakeholders.
The Osmos process was applied in the Manziana project in Italy and in the Crown Barracks project in Brussels, Belgium. In the latter case, Osmos helped the Brussels University Alliance to reconvert part of Crown Barracks, a 40,000 square foot complex in the South of Brussels that was previously used as military base and then as police headquarters. The Brussels University Alliance brings together the two major universities of the Belgian capital and obtained around 12 million euros from European Structural Funds in order to reconvert two large buildings of the Crown Barracks that will host a variety of functions, including student accommodation, common learning and living areas, commercial space, restaurants, a business incubator, exposition areas, spaces for urban agriculture and other functions.
The complexity of this programme required a way to bring together knowledge on the different functions and their ramifications for the buildings. Osmos decided to address this challenges by NOT focusing on specialised knowledge in each area, but by explicitly engaging experts and stakeholders in a reflection on the INTERACTIONS between the four themes that together capture a large portion of the project’s complexity. The four themes include the “landscape”, i.e. the larger environment around the two buildings; the “flows”, i.e. the technological problems related to the circulation of water, energy, food, waste and people around the site and beyond; the “privacy”, i.e. the specific quality that the private areas dedicated to housing will have to offer; and “common space”, i.e. the quality of the publicly accessible areas such as restaurants, exposition spaces etc.
Working on the “edges” between these different themes, to use a term borrowed from Christopher Alexander’s pattern language, provides at least two advantages. First, it forces stakeholders and experts to leave the comfort zones of their respective specialisations and contributes to a better understanding of how a specific element will behave when it is inserted into a larger system. Second, looking at the same interactions from two different perspectives yields “early warning” alerts whenever different specialisations provide conflicting solutions for the same type of interaction. For instance, it is not uncommon that engineers view the interaction between technological infrastructures and commons space differently than the business or residential community. The Osmos methodology is a way to articulate such potential conflicts at a very early stage in the planning process.
The combined result of these two advantages contributes to urban regeneration projects that are more “systemic”, less conflictual and more sustainable in the long run.