A RIVER, in the true sense of the word – that is to say ‘blue’ – is, by its very nature, relatively inaccessible. It forms an important part of the public realm, which remains inaccessible to (most of) the public. We appreciate the river from afar.
What, then, of the City of Antwerp’s ‘green river’ concept?
Currently, only 10.8% (146,318 Ha) of Flanders is covered in forest. And, globally deforestation accounts for up to 17% of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming (1). The Green Singel, as an area equal to that of ‘Intra-muur’ Antwerp represents an exciting opportunity to address deforestation in Flanders.
The ‘green river’ becomes a FOREST. The forest becomes an indispensable part of Antwerp’s ecological network, encircling the city in a green matrix that can also make a significant contribution to the city’s public open space network.
From the outset, we have been intrigued by the idea of whether or not the reality of an international motorway is actually compatible with the idea of public open space within the city.
Indeed, this open space exists because of the motorway; without the motorway the Green Singel (as both a planning concept and as available open space) would not exist today.
We are also interested in the nature of the Green Singel as a planning concept, and its inevitable implementation through as a series of individual architectural and landscape architectural project developments. We therefore, believe the concept - this is to say, the idea of the Green Singel - can only retain integrity as an idea if it is supported by a concept that can act as a platform upon which various projects may develop over time.
We believe a forest should become this platform, engulfing existing city fabrics within the Singel and providing a credible, clearly identifiable canvas upon which new developments can grow.
The forest will make a significant ecological impact on Antwerp, enhancing local environmental conditions and establishing regional network connections within the state of Flanders, which retains only 10.8% of its surface area as forested lands.
It will define a new public realm at the edge of two separate existing city realms, and will facilitate a new form of interaction in a common space between the two cities of Antwerp.
The motorway & the motorist are arguably the forest’s most significant benefactors, and it will, therefore, contribute to ‘the view from the road’ by establishing a series of gateways, where a new sense of urban identity will be forged at each location to mark arrival and departure points to and from the Green Singel, and, therefore, to and from the city of Antwerp.
The relationship between built interventions within the forest and the two cities will continue to change over time as the forest grows; engulfing, revealing, framing, and staging a new civic experience within what is predominately a wild and (potentially) confronting environment.
The forest will become the City’s ‘green river’.
Our concept - the forest, the ecological machine - binds the existing forest structures within parklands together with the existing fragments of forest isolated between infrastructure and built forms.
As a result, the forest inhabits the city in some places and in others the city inhabits the forest.
Each of the three forest zones, as described previously, has it’s own individual character:
- The North Forest is light deciduous with an ecological focus.
- The Middle Forest is maritime and has a strong geometrical structure, especially at the left bank and in the harbour.
- While the South Forest is alluvial has an organic appearance, which, at times, responds to various public programme requirements in the forms of a grid.
But the forest isn’t simply a single forest. There is a complexity behind it which gives it its strength.
During the design process we developed an implementation methodology that we carefully applied when designing the new forest into the city landscape.
The principles include: layers, structures, grids, volume, sight lines and seasons, as shown in each of the gateway sections.
The strongest principle, however, is the enormous effect vegetation and terrain will have on environmental remediation, with respect to air and noise pollution as well as surface water runoff.
To mitigate the noise problems we build up terrain adjacent to roads where appropriate.
The trees in the forest are carefully chosen and have the capacity of cleaning massive amounts of vehicular particulate pollution every year.
The main points to note within the Antwerpen Zuid landscape Masterplan are:
- Use of existing city patterns to structure new civic spaces;
- Incorporation of existing iconographic buildings, such as the Palace of Justice, for example – here we see Lord Rogers’ icon engulfed by the forest, creating a new relationship to the adjacent cityscape;
- Placement of new icons within clearings in the forest;
- Sight lines carved through dense roadside forest to provide strategic glimpses of new icons;
- Reconfigured heavy rail infrastructure at the Antwerpen Zuid station;
- Diversified traffic flow along the single, both in the form of split vehicular carriageways, and a new light rail station;
- New community facilities which address existing demands – Market Square.
And on-surface parking facilities within a gridded forest to accommodate both existing and projected demands.
In closing, we believe Antwerp’s green river - our forest - can, indeed, become a significant part of Antwerp’s urban fabric.
Where you may not necessarily be able to physically access the green river, you will certainly be able to appreciate it from afar.
(1) G.R.van der Werf, D.C.Morton, R.S.DeFries, J.G.J.Olivier, P.S.Kasibhatla, R.B.Jackson, G.J.Collatz and J.T.Randerson (2009). “CO2 emissions from forest loss”. Nature Geoscience 2 (11): 737–738.