Somewhere in between: material flows in Brussels

Text by Alison Creba, M.A. Canadian Studies, School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, Carleton University, 2018.

There are many ways to get across town.  The journey which I make almost daily through Brussels starts in the North-eastern neighbourhood of Schaerbeek and ends in the South-western district of Anderlecht. Lately I have been exploring new routes. And while it certainly takes longer, one of my favorites involves a quick jaunt over the crest of land west of my apartment, then bombing down a steep hill. I dip under a train-overpass reeking of urine, and emerge into a flow of commuters fresh off their trains at Brussels North Station.  The sun blinds me for an instant, refracting off the shiny facades of the modern office-towers ahead.   I hold my ground in traffic, trying not to act intimidated as I maneuver over a bridge crossing the canal. On the other side, I turn sharply to meet a cycle route running parallel to the water that will take me most of the way to my destination. Bustling with traffic, grit and colour, I rely on both my intuition and intellect to navigate the city.  Each passage is marked by new observations and characters which become more familiar to me as I settle in.  On my bike, I begin to thread together a story of the sites as I pass.

There is of course, the big, beige Gare du Nord.  Lurking there in a daze of epochs – weary, under-slept, and perhaps still a little drunk from the night before. While rail activity has occurred here since 1835, mid-20th century ambitions to connect stations at the North and South ends of the city prompted not only the demolition of the earlier train station but also large swaths of the urban fabric between.  Born-again into an environment where large-scale urban ideals were finding a physical form, North Station represents both a break from, and continuation of, tradition in the city.

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Brussels The morning sun hits Brussels North / Bruxelles Nord / Brussel Noord. Image credit: Alison Creba

Its neighbors, the modern office towers, are similarly contradictory creatures; by day bouncing light off their dark windows and by night projecting silhouetted still lives.  Among them, the largely vacant World Trade Center complex looms large.  Erected in the same controversial era of demolition and displacement as the North Station, in recent years, various uses have been proposed for the trio of WTC towers.  In 2015, a federally funded initiative partially furnished WTC III with 500 beds for refugees, who had otherwise taken up residence in a nearby park. Despite the intentions of this program, bureaucratic barriers prevented the success of the initiative[1]. These days, the complex is partially occupied by architectural and artist organizations who host discussions and exhibitions that reflect on the current and potential future state of the towers and surrounding area.

A modern office tower offers a silent portrait of its interior landscape. Image credit: Alison Creba

Here I stand now. Empty. I have had a turbulent past. My future is still uncertain. However paradoxical it may sound: this is precisely the situation that offers opportunities. I am ready for new life. I know that now is merely a point in time. Change will happen in any case.  This is the time to choose. How and in which direction.

The voice of the World Trade Center in an excerpt from You Are Here, 2018.

Once I have crossed the canal, I meet Tour & Taxis, a large 19th century brick and wrought iron complex with a misleading name. It took me a few months to learn that the site was not so-called for its connection to bus tours and taxis, but instead had evolved from its former use as a railway and shipping hub initiated by the German Thurn und Taxis family.  Having grown up and declined along with industrial activity in the city, the large site is now undergoing a revitalization into a commercial district reminiscent of Toronto’s distillery district.

A little further along, I pass the former Yser Citroën garage.   The massive (38,000 m²) structure has the confidence of a proud grandmother – a matriarch responsible for thousands of stylish vehicles. Comprised almost entirely of windows and rounded steel, the eighty-something year-old sits elegantly at the intersection of the canal and a major boulevard, watching the modern movement of the city.   Like Tour & Taxis, this large former-industrial site has only recently re-emerged onto the Brussels cultural scene. May of 2018 marked the launch of what is being called her “Prefigurative Year” a period before major renovations when she will host visitors to the newly inaugurated Kanal Centre Pompidou[2].  Indicative of broader changes taking place in the Brussels Capital Region’s Canal Plan, this transformation represents part of the way the city is being reconsidered after a decade of studies and proposals aimed at regenerating the area.

Kanal Centre Pompidou in the the former Yser Citroën garage. Image credit: Alison Creba
Contrasting aesthetics find harmony along the banks of the canal. Image credit: Alison Creba

Continuing south, the pattern densifies. Decorated in contemporary graffiti, the canal walls bubble with dialogue.  Around them, the cultural appropriation of industrial structures gradually gives way to second-wave activities: a district of used-auto dealers and mechanics harken to earlier days of manufacturing. At times it is hard to tell whether a building is occupied or not. Faded signage does little to help discern between ongoing or expired activities.  If you are lucky, a momentary glimpse through large garage doors reveal the unique arrangement of their interior spaces: deep corridors and double-decker parking.

Chance encounters along the canal are part of its charm.  There are moments when long barges glide by containing neat mounds of gravel or tidy coils of cable.  If you look closely you might notice a potted plant or bicycle on board – a hint of the boat’s domestic life.  Once, while cycling together along the canal, my born-and-raised Brusselloise colleague described one of her favorite feelings: that moment when her bicycle’s speed aligns with that of vessel cruising alongside her.  It’s like being on a swing set, I thought, when you find yourself pumping in unison with your neighbour.

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A river barge glides along the canal.  Image credit: Alison Creba

There is something satisfying about the way these river-barges slowly ship raw materials through the city.  Narrow yet robust, their physical form mimics that of the canal itself.  Cruising by, they channel a historical sentiment, facilitating the ritual flow of materials from one end of the city to the other. In this way they not only illustrate the arterial vitality of the canal, but illuminate the importance of raw materials in sustaining the city itself.

As I approach my destination, the industrial typology mixes with this attention to raw materials.  Buildings themselves seem to look inwards onto that which they contain: used-cars dealers morph into scrap metal lots.  Spacious yards reveal collections of building materials, rawly stacked and overgrown with purple Buddleia.  Bathrooms and kitchen components are on offer in an old Peugeot factory, and an industrial brick building has been converted into a chic hotel.  Beside it is a vacant lot.

The canal opens up at the Biestebroeck basin, a segment which had been widened after the second world war order to accommodate changes in water level caused by the (now covered) Senne River.  Outfitted with industrial cranes which lift and lower materials into adjacent barges, the basin has long served as a port for raw materials.  In recent years, the extended Biestebroeck region has become a focus area in the Canal Plan.  As a result, it has been vigorously studied, evaluated and ultimately, identified for redevelopment by municipal authorities[3].

This is where my path diverges from the water.  I dip back into the urban fabric zig-zagging along, under, then beside the raised train tracks. And this is perhaps the most perplexing leg of the passage. It is here, that I find variously composed configurations of waste.  At times sculptural, I identify no unifying theme to these assemblages: be they household, commercial or industrial,  each day presents a new composition pressed up against the walls of the railway embankment.

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Roadside sculptures, documented en route. Image credit: Alison Creba

I wonder how they’ve arrived here.  I imagine a pilgrimage of refuse-refugees making their way by twilight to these borderlands.  Perhaps they have heard about a place nearby where discarded materials find a second life. Perhaps they are going where I am going? If so, then we have more in common than meets the eye. I, like them, am curious about this place and the processes which occur there.  How is it, I wonder, that materials are transformed? What activities facilitate the re-arrangement of their associated values?  How do past lives inform future ones?

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Picture14-Waste 9

And about this place: where is it, exactly? And what is the significance of this location? What is it made of?  What conditions enable it to exist? Off of what does it feed?

“We often state that at Rotor we study the materials economy. There as well, it is impossible to distinguish matter from life. Fossil fuels, on which the world economy has come to depend, are none else then decayed and fossilized vegetables. Limestone, be it used as a façade material or the main ingredient of cement, is tightly packed, petrified skeletons of animals that lived millions years ago.” – Lionel Devlieger, May 2018

Picture16-Rotor skylineMy destination is a large rectangular building which sits squarely on a dusty road.  Despite its size, you might not notice it were it not for the scrappy signage which spells out ROTOR DC with planks of wood fastened to the minimal parapet.   Every so often, a mechanical chime rings and a train rumbles by. A tall v-shaped apartment building towers over the site, an unabashed neighbourhood observer who contributes its its own rhythm and patterns.  Children’s voices float above like the flags and curtains which hang from balconies.

The textured tone continues at ground level, where beyond the brick wall and two massive grey doors, blocks of heavy paving – classic Belgian blue limestone – are arranged in wooden crates.  Other materials are on display too: individual slabs and a revolving cast of ceramic tiles are displayed on plywood easels.  As if having been turned inside-out, a patchwork wall of painted brick and tile tell of an interior space, which now exposed, supports a bizarrely shaped warehouse.

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A tapestry of stone and brick disguise the storage depot at Rotor headquarters.  In the background the apartment tower looms large. Image credit: Alison Creba

The quilted aesthetic continues underfoot where bits of rebar poke through concrete foundations and curiously pink cement floors transition to interlocking paving. As with the tiled facade, these remnant surfaces indicate that previous structures had been organized on a diagonal axis.  In areas with less activity, robust vegetation – wild grasses, weeds, flowers, blackberry bushes and stinging nettle push their way through the cracks. Orange metal shelving divides the yard, distinguishing between display and processing areas. Further back, a collection of toilets wait in uniform rows for their experimental dive into vats of acidic vinegar cleaning solutions.

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A site investigation. Image credit: Alison Creba

Together, these elements contribute to the uncanny sense that one is occupying a space which is neither distinctly interior or exterior.  It is a place alive with the residues of former structures – from both the buildings which had previously occupied the site, as well as the display of architectural components from elsewhere.  Yet, it is not just the presence of these elements, but also their orientation, which distinguish the site.  Here, generations of building components mingle and quietly inform one another. Older foundations instruct new arrivals on the best places to find flat footing, new facades meet older ones at unpredictable angles and together guide visitors to explore the various materials caught in their fold. This connection to the spirit-of-buildings-past seems fitting for a place which at its core challenges conventional notions of a building’s ‘end of life’ and instead proposes that ideas about durability and aesthetic sensibility be investigated on a component level.

Aerial photos of the site 1930-2015. Credit:

The largest structure on site – a generic industrial building and former chocolate factory – is so big that in the summer months, the temperature noticeably drops when you step inside.  A large showroom on the building’s second level is where Rotor displays its more precious pieces – here, furniture, lighting and parquet flooring mingle with assorted hardware.  It’s easy to lose yourself in these organized isles – each object beckoning you nearer to hold or touch it.   As with the exterior lot, the materials here are constantly on the move – rearranging themselves for either fashion or comfort, jostling like girls at an old-fashion dance, yearning to be selected for their own spin on the town.

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Rotor’s showroom. Image credit: Alison Creba

But I am still thinking about the materials that I encountered on my way here. I wonder what distinguishes them from the items which have made their way inside? What do they have in common? Of course, there are the obvious observations:  the items at Rotor seems to be relatively durable and complete components.  They have been identified in pre-demolition inventories and have subsequently been carefully disassembled, transported, cleaned and photographed for the online catalogue.  Despite the ease of filling a warehouse with salvaged materials, as one of my colleagues says, it is clear that many are not so lucky.  And while it is by no means easy, salvaging these items from their alternative fate as landfill is really only half the battle: the cycle can only be complete when materials are re-integrated into new settings.  So for the time being, these materials do share something fundamental in common with their comrades outside;  they are all somewhere in between.

Having formally identified as useful objects, these materials now exist in a liminal space awaiting a new purposes in new places.  Geographically located between two significant borderlands – train tracks and canal, these materials are also in-between various definitions of cultural and financial value. Yet, despite its ambiguity, this place in-between has a name.

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In the weeds. Video still from Environ(ne)ment: Gilles Clement. Image credit:

In his essay “Working with (and never against) Nature”, the French landscape architect Giles Clement introduces the concept of the “Tiers paysage” or the third landscape.  If the whole planet is a garden he says, the Tiers paysages are, “left behind (délaissé) urban or rural sites, transitional spaces, neglected land (friches), swamps, moors, peat bogs, but also roadsides, shores, railroad embankments, etc.”[4]  According to Clement, these overlooked, discarded, transitional spaces are valuable because they cultivate diversity.
It is precisely because they are overlooked that they also serve as inadvertent conservation areas – harbouring items which are otherwise disregarded. Within his landscaping practice, Clement gives value to the vegetation which is typically extracted from gardens. Calling weeds by their latin names, he advocates for the importance of the uncultivated spaces which enable alternative ecosystems and ultimately promote dynamic environments.

Following Clement’s thinking, I consider the space along the railroad and canal embankments of Anderlecht as a safe place for collections of discarded materials, a garden of assorted objects.  Like Clement’s process of naming weeds, the materials at Rotor are distinguished from those on the roadside because they have been classified, ordered, recognized within an accepted social structure.  While still operating outside the broader building industry, the items here have been curated with an equal attention to their economic potential, material durability and the broader historical and architectural context in which they were produced. Combining the everyday and the unique, here glass office partitions mingle with sculpted bronze handles, bookshelves with ceiling panels. Nevertheless, Rotor’s proximity to the abandoned materials on the roadside reinforces my broader sense of this place as a Tiers paysage.  They suggest to me that perhaps this location is not a simple coincidence but potentially also a reflection of a deeply ingrained spatial and social order.  Linking land use with the values of the materials found there, I wondered what a spatial reading of this liminal typology could contribute to broader understanding of its past and future relevance.  How, if at all, do the legacies of these values-in-flux resonate? If we listen closely, can the echoes of past-in-betweens be heard?

Unsure of how to address these questions from a serious research perspective, I was intrigued to learn about an interdisciplinary research project currently being conducted at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel entitled Building Brussels. Connecting the production of urban fabric to both the flow of construction materials and the evolution of small material suppliers and contracting firms, the project’s objectives are to trace, understand and evaluate past urban transformations and to offer solutions for sustainable future urban development[5].  Using GIS mapping techniques to layer data relating to location, typology, activity and historical period, the research team has begun to identify patterns between the specific architectural composition of these small businesses and the larger geo-spatial and economic conditions in which they exist.  Playing with various combinations, this methodology enables a unique reading of otherwise unseen connections. Early investigations have revealed that historically, the supply of timber not only followed specific topographic forms, but influenced the physical and economic success of nearby businesses.  And while the expansion of these businesses is also linked to other factors including land values, socio-economic dynamics and available labour forces (which also often corresponded to specific geographic features such as floodplains and valleys), they could also be detected on a micro level – in the type of joinery and ornamentation used to furnish their spaces[6]. Further, the success of a specific contractor and/or material supplier could also be measured in the visibility of these techniques in surroundings structures.  Combining macro and micro scale spatial evaluations, the Building Brusselsproject not only helps to address my questions about process and place but contributes to the urban dialogue currently taking place in Brussels as it links the movement of materials and local construction culture to the conservation and adaptive reuse of existing structures.

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Geographical mapping of timber-contractors/suppliers remaining and disappeared patrimony.Credit: Degraeve et al, 2018.
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Representation of case studies for industrial types by means of 3D GIS-data, cadastral maps and images from the Inventaire visuel. Credit: Degraeve et al, 2018.

Providing new insights into the morphology of small scale industrial sites, the project also adds to conversations about intangible cultural heritage which acknowledges, among many things, the heritage value of “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions,social practices, rituals … and the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts”[7].  More specifically, it can be seen to contribute to an understanding of regional Baukultur, a term which is described as,

“an aspect of cultural identity and diversity, which holistically embraces every human activity that changes the built environment, including every built and designed asset that is embedded in and relates to the natural environment. Baukultur calls for contemporary creation and the existing buildings infrastructure and public space, including, but not limited to, monuments of cultural heritage, to be understood as a single entity. Thus, Baukulturrefers to both detailed construction methods and large-scale transformations and developments, embracing traditional and local building skills as well as innovative techniques[8]”.  (emphasis in original text)

Challenging traditional conservation strategies for built heritage which place limits on how, if at all, interventions are permitted, the Building Brusselsproject instead proposes that the movement and transformation of materials are linked to the broader conservation of industrial heritage. In linking the conservation of structures and materials with the social and spatial relationships which support them, this approach offers nuance to not only notions of the adaptive reuse of existing industrial structures but the intangible cultural heritage of the construction industry itself.  Finally, in connecting past material flows with current building practices and places, the spatial analysis offered in theBuilding Brusselsproject offers a passage into the present conversation on the relationship between historic and ongoing processes and the current arrangement of construction and demolition waste, empty buildings, derelict land and urban development.

One point of connection is with the Canal Plan which, the central tenants of which, according to Brussels bowemeester Kristiaan Borret, are to “‘bring back the productive economy’ within the heart of the city, meaning light industrial activities like carpentry, food production and restoration”[9].  Since it was officially launched in 2012, consultants Alexandre Chemetoff & Associés have chosen six themes by which they define and interpret the canal region. Among them, the architects identified derelict plots as one of six thematic areas of interest along with ‘canal and port, industrial heritage, public spaces, exceptional locations, and natures in the city’[10]. Beyond being valuable as conservation areas as Clement suggests, the identification of this landscape typology within this large-scale planning project demonstrates its’ value in processes of regeneration on an urban scale.

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The six thematic focus areas identified within the Canal Plan. Chemetoff and Maillard 2014. p. 29.

The value of empty, forgotten and discarded buildings is also broadly explored in Melanie Van de Hoorne’s book, Indispensable Eyesores. In it, Van de Hoorne provides the example of the Viennese Flaktuerme, Nazi-era ‘above-ground bunkers’ which, because of their perceived indestructibility, have remained intact yet invisible to locals.  Massive structures in the middle of the city, Van de Hoorne describes how in recent years, various artistic, architectural and community based interventions were staged to simultaneously call attention to their contemporary relevance and problematic pasts.   In a chapter entitled “Exorcizing Remains”, Van de Hoorne focuses specifically on the questions of building components derived from undesirable buildings. She demonstrates how, once made available, fragments of deplorable buildings can become attractive.  In these cases, it is precisely that an object has broken with its former use which enables it to be reconceived and adopted anew[11].  Van de Hoorne’s examples demonstrate that while overlooked and/or discarded, the persistent presence of eyesores on an urban, architectural or component scale are nonetheless important resources for initiating conversations about the future.

A local example of this is the project Le Bati Brusselois: Source de Nouveau Materiaux (BBSM)– a long-term study currently occurring in Brussels which seeks to redefine derelict materials as valuable resources.  Working to address questions of resource management and ongoing industrial activity as well as wider sustainable development objectives encouraged by the European Union through the Regional Circular Economy Programme (PREC), the premise of BBSM emerges from a fundamental recognition of the value in previously overlooked materials, spaces and processes. Complimenting the Building Brusselsproject with a poetic inversion, the BBSM initiative analyses the ‘urban metabolism’ of the construction industry within the Brussels-Capital Region (RBC)[12].  Engaging in many forms analysis, it not only reads existing structures for their potential contribution to future construction projects, but also envisions the integration of salvaged material as a form of environmental conservation.

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The Brussels archives hold this portrait of a wrecker on a demolition site in circa 1900. Historical research reveals that deconstruction practices were common before the turn of the century. Image credit: Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles, AVB C-14571, photo: J.Geuens/Berlarij

And while arguments about the environmental sustainability of material reuse are often offered in support of deconstruction and reuse practices, both the process and products of this practice can also be framed as a way of participating in, perpetuating and thereby conserving a regional architectural vernacular. As is demonstrated in Deconstruction et Remploi, the book Rotor produced as a part of the BBSM project, the act of deconstruction is recognized as a process with its own spatial, social and economic history. Joining the ranks with the otherwise limited historical research on demolition and deconstruction, Rotor’s account of the rise and fall of this sector in Brussels may be linked to the broad concept of Baukultur, introduced above.  And while the German term has been used since the turn of the century, it has only recently become codified within the heritage discourse[13].  In January 2018, European Ministers of Culture attended a meeting in Davos, Switzerland where they presented the Davos Declaration, an official document which not only defines the term but provides a context for its relevance within contemporary conservation and development discourses.

The Davos Declaration is an attempt at addressing this gap [between siloed practices of architecture, planning and construction] by offering an all-encompassing concept of Baukultur, which treats the care and preservation of cultural heritage and the extensive shaping of the environment by means of construction and development as a single entity and formulates cultural expectations with respect to the appearance of our built environment, for the common good[14].

Linking the preservation of culture and environment with a careful attention to “the extensive shaping of the environment by means of construction and development”, it is pertinent to also consider the obvious influence of practices of building deconstruction and material reuse within this realm. Indeed, Rotor’s 2016 Opalis project – an initiative which maps and inventories reclamation businesses currently operating in Belgium – demonstrates that the reuse sector has not only a historic context in this place, but a living physical, economic and social landscape.  Given this, we might again examine the concept of Baukulture, and consider whether an analogous yet inverted term such as Apbaukultur (un-building-culture) might also be relevant to this context.  While an initial survey reveals no existing use of this term, another colleague recently challenged me to consider whether or not building and unbuilding cultures can truly be considered opposites.  Although I am inclined to conceptually agree with this preposition, my own fieldwork[15]as well as the historical, technical and theoretical work of others[16]suggests that while certainly related, the process and broader cultural context of unbuilding is relatively distinct. Apart from this question of terminology, this existing historic, spatial and cultural account of deconstruction and reuse practices also provides some insight into an analogous measure value of derelict spaces, structures and materials.

Picture31-opalis is an online inventory created by Rotor which documents the existing reuse sector around Brussels.  Image credit:

Perhaps it is Rotor’s intimate knowledge of this history which led them to occupy this site – itself a liminal entity – a former chocolate-factory and future site of densely developed urban fabric.  This, combined with the affordable land-value and convenient proximity to the center, are undoubtedly sound enough justification.  But what about the other materials on the roadside? What precedents led them to this space in-between?

In an examination of the construction and demolition industry, students participating in a design studio at the VUB analyzed the spatial organization of the primary activities of a Brussels-based company, Groep Dekempeneer in order to more broadly identify factors which influenced their success.  Their report, CITIES OF MAKING: optimization exercise of construction and demolition companies in Brussels (2016) identifies several spatial, economic and political factors which enabled the company to develop from road and construction works to the recycling of aggregate and eventually the production of concrete.  In addition to proximity to the canal, the students identified that distance from Brussels’ city center was important to the company’s growth given that about 80% of the materials treated by (de)construction companies are coming from Brussels[17].  In addition to the affordability and accessibility of the land, the students also noted that political boundaries were also a factor influencing the organization of Dekempeneer’s sites.  In true Belgian form, the research revealed that contrasting French and Flemish definitions waste were seen to influence not only the location of treatment facilities but the spatial organization of the site itself.  Noting that, “in Flanders recycled rubble counts as a new raw material (after it gets certified of course), while in Brussels the recycled rubble is still seen as waste”, the group also observed that the region’s largest demolition company, De Meuter also situated their recycling plant in Flanders in order to accommodate the incongruous regulations in Brussels and Flanders[18].  While the proximity to the center and canal struck me as relatively obvious factors influencing the location of the company’s various activities, the added political dynamic prompted me to reconsider the location of my tiers paysage in relation to these boundaries.

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A map created by students researching the optimization of construction and demolition companies around Brussels displays the clustering of these operations around the canal.  Image credit: Calsyn and Dewit (2016).

It did not take long to identify that my site in Anderlecht is indeed located within 3 km of the nearest Flanders / Brussels border.  Adding a political dimension to my understanding of the site as a place somewhere in between, this spatial-political relationship of discarded materials was emphasized further when I learn that until 1971 when political boundaries changed, broadly categorized household waste had been collected at a site roughly midway between my tiers paysage and the French/Flemish border[19].  This insight reveals the degree to which long-standing socio-political and economic distinctions between the French and Flemish populations in Belgium have permeated not only the cultural but also the material composition of the place. Historically, such political distinctions led to the transportation of waste to French regions of the country where treatment facilities were less developed, and eventually to the construction of the Brussels Incinerator in 1984 as a way of intervening on this flow[20].  Further, while the 1971 Agglomeration of Brussels temporarily unified its 19 separate municipalities until the Brussels Capital Region was created in 1989, more recent initiatives such as the EU Waste Framework Directivehave attempted to redefine waste, its treatment and set goals for diversion rates by the year 2020[21]. Despite this, follow-up studies conducted five years after its implementation noted that despite advancements, differences in recycling and other waste diversion tactics for household waste continue to be divided along political lines[22]. Nevertheless, these policies also reveal a slowly shifting attention to the places and processes of discarded materials which falls in line with the line of questioning which brought me to this place in the first place.

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Photos derived from reports made by reports made by Marchel Van Hulst in advance of the 1971 Brussels Agglomeration. Images from landfill in Anderlecht, pre-1970. Image credit: Brussels Capital Region.
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Waste is loaded onto river barges to be moved elsewhere.  Image credit: Brussels Capital Region.

Providing a historical and political context for the shifting orientation of waste materials within the city, this last morsel of information provides a little more gravity to the in-betweenness not only of this location and the materials which have peaked my interest, but the broader role of liminal spaces, structures and objects in the ongoing process of revaluation in the city at large.  In considering this place – somewhere in between a former landfill and a city considering its future; between canal, railway and the buried Senne river; between definitions of waste and resource, I begin to feel as though I am on the cusp of a larger idea.  It is here that I realize that process isplace. Defined not only by this historic and ongoing flow of materials, it is gradually becomes clear to me that the transformation of the city is enabled by the very act of examining and reconsidering values associated with these places.

At the end of each day, I unlock my bike and prepare myself for a journey home along a new route.  While there undoubtedly will be some overlap with path that led me here, I challenge myself to explore further.  Indeed, each day I see something new.  Sometimes my discoveries emerge in the form of new connections between streets, in other instances, I see for the first time that which I have glanced at a dozen times.  …

All photos by Alison Creba unless otherwise indicated. The internship completed at ROTOR was part of a NSERC CREATE HeritageEngineering grant. The research at VUB was supported by a MITACS Globalink grant.

Works Cited

  • “Beistebroeck.” (2018) Perspective.Brussels. Accessed Oct 4, 2018. Available online Declaration. (January, 2018)  Accessed Oct 1, 2018. Published online at:
  • Bertels, Inge et al. (2016) Building Brussels. Brussels city builders and the production of space, 1794 – 2016. Accessed October 4, 2018. Available online at:
  • Brussels Energie. “About”. Accessed October 3, 2018 Published online at:
  • Calsyn, Katja; Dewit, Lien (2016). CITIES OF MAKING: optimisation exercise of construction and demolition companies in Brussels – A case study of Groep DeKempeneer. MaSTeR* Design Studio DS1 – Vrije Universitet Brussels: Brussels, Belgium.
  • Cairns, Stephen and Jane M. Jacobs. Buildings Must Die: A Perverse View of Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2014.
  • Chemetoff, Alexandre and Maillard, Sylvie. (2014) Canal Plan – Book 1.  Les éditions du bureau des paysages: Gentilly, France.
  • Clement, Gilles. (2006) “Working With (and never against) Nature.” Environ(ne)ment: Approaches for Tomorrow.  Montreal: Canadian Center for Architecture.
  • Creba, Alison. (2018)NEW PARADIGMS, NEW TOOLS A Research Report: Developing digital tools utilizing heritage waste.Carleton University. June 2018
  • Degraeve, M., Vandyck, F. M., Bertels, I., Deneweth, H., & Van de Voorde, S.(2018). Spatial analysis of timber construction SMEs in Brussels (1880-1980). In Studies in the History of Services and Construction: The Proceedings of the Fifth Conference of the Construction History Society (Vol. 5, pp. 427-442). Cambridge: Construction History Society.
  • European Commission. EU Waste Framework Directive (2008). Accessed Oct 3, 2018. Available online at:
  • European Environment Agency. (October 2016). Waste Prevention Programme Belgium, Flanders Region fact sheet. Overview of national waste prevention programmes in Europe. Accessed October 3, 2018. Available at:
  • European Ministers of Culture. (2018, January 22). “Davos Declaration.” Accessed October 4, 2018. Available online at:
  • Gentil, Emmanuel C. (2013, February). Municipal waste management in Belgium. European Environment Agency
  • Guy, Brad, and Falk, Robert H.Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses.Newton, CT: Taunton Press, 2007.
  • Hope, Alan. (2015, Sept 9). “Temporary accommodation for refugees goes unused;” Flanders Daily.Accessed Sept 25, 2018. Available online at:
  • ICOMOS UK. (Jan 25, 2018) “Davos Declaration”. Accessed Oct 1, 2018. Published online at:
  • Le Bâti Bruxellois Source de Nouveaux Matériaux. “About.” Accessed Oct 3, 2018. Published online at:
  • Mazy, Kristel. (2017, April 24) “Rethinking the ties between Brussels and its port: a development issue for the canal area.”Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, no 110, Accessed October, 4 2018. Available at:; DOI : 10.4000/brussels.1514
  • UNESCO (2011) “What is Intangible Cultural Heritage”. Accessed October 4, 2018. Available online at
  • Van De Hoorne, Melanie (2009) Indispensable Eyesores: An Anthropology of Undesired Buildings. New York: Berghahn Books.
  • Vergels, Emi. (2018, June-July-August). “Can Kanal move beyond the hype to truly become a beacon of neighbourhood change?”  The Word Magazine.  Brussels, Belgium.

[1]Hope, 2015.

[2]Vergels, 2018. p.36

[3]Mazy, 2017; Beistebroeck, 2018

[4]Clement, 2006, p. 91

[5]Bertels, 2016

[6]Degraeveandir and Vandyck, p.6

[7]UNESCO, 2011.

[8]ICOMOS, Davos Declaration, 2018.

[9]Vergels, 2018. p.36

[10]Chemetoff and Maillard 2014. p. 29.

[11]Van de Hoorne, 2009, pp. 169-171

[12]Le Bâti Bruxellois Source de Nouveaux Matériaux, 2018.

[13]ICOMOS, 2018

[14]European Ministers of Culture, 2018

[15]Creba, 2018

[16]Byles, 2015; Guy and Falk, 2007;  Cairns and Jacobs, 2014

[17]Calsyn and Dewit, 2016.

[18]Calsyn and Dewit, 2016. p. 18