Beyond the urban ecosystem double bind
I came to this workshop from New York City, part of the US’ north-east megalopolis, stretching from Boston to Washington and primarily made up of timber houses and lawns within inhabited forests structured by watersheds. Historically, rivers became the productive sites of mill towns and industrial neighbourhoods, while business centres of glass and steel — such as Manhattan — attest to accumulation of wealth of the megalopolis; currently, however, sprawling office campuses, distribution ‘fulfilment’ centres and retail strips are the backbone of this sprawling conurbation. During this MasterClass, I came to understand Brussels’ territorial history as a stone city built by agricultural and craft merchants along the Senne River, a tributary of the North Sea, protected by a duke with his magnificent hunting forest to the south-east. In the xixth century, the Brussels-Charleroi Canal connected the coal fields of Wallonia to the North Sea, creating an industrial city along the length of its transect at the nodal city of Brussels, leaving the forested south-west of the city-region as an elite enclave. The aftermath of World War II saw the development of a service economy as Brussels became the seat of NATO, then the European Union. Territory and history are the architectural and ecological destiny of cities. Brussels exists as a bilingual artefact between sea and forest, with its own history of manufacturing complexes and clusters of glass towers as well as its own sprawling conurbations.