concrete operations
//unlocking potentials through in-situ transformations of young-heritage high rise structures
Jonathan Burkard
Gent, 2023

In the north of Gent, squeezed between a freight yard and a 4-lane traffic road, surrounded by heavy industry and towering out over its surroundings are two high-rise buildings in distress.They were built in 1968 and intended as a constellation of 10 buildings and supporting amenities. A new urban district conceived with all the modernistic intent that was driving housing estate development at the time… Now it stands out as strange bodies in a depleted corner of Gent.

These two buildings on the Afrikalaan in Gent represent a widely spread residential typology in Flanders and beyond: the high-rise buildings from the 1960s and 1970s.
Many of these residential towers are now entering a phase of transition: a transition of living quality and a transition of energy. In the tallest of the two buildings there are 224 living units, owned by 220 different owners. A lot of them are in a precarious financial situation and hence lack the means to join in the highly needed transition. 

Therefore, this project takes a closer look into the possibilities as well as boundaries of the structural framework within the social setting. How can a minimal transformation unlock the maximum quality of space?  How can we delete spatial incoherence by adding new elements to the structure? The rigid bulkhead construction becomes fluid through a playful way of exploring new possibilities within a physical model that can be assembled and dismantled. It can be understood as a way of “reverse engineering” – throughout the change of spatial parameters new structures arise creating tension between the old and new. 
The sensible approach encourages to continue and value the existing structure as a physical framework that still left with surprises.