CO-HOUSING AND COMMUNITY HEALTHCARE CENTRE ON THE FORMER INDUSTRIAL SITE ‘MALMAR’ IN GHENT | OPEN COMPETITION ORGANISED BY THE CLIENT, 1ST PLACE
Close to the centre of Ghent, an abandoned factory site is transformed into a flourishing community including three cohousing groups (Wijgaard, De Spore and Biotope) with 59 dwellings, a neighbourhood health centre, a circuit of collective indoor and outdoor spaces and a workshop with a view of the Bijgaardepark. Bijgaardehof focuses on sustainability, both at the urban development level and at the project level – an ambitious, mixed programme organised around meeting and interaction in one of the largest cohousing projects in Flanders.
From the start of this project – with a competition organised by sogent in 2009 – the redevelopment of the abandoned factory site was an excellent opportunity to reinforce our vision of the spatial conditions for collective living in the city. In that sense, Bijgaardehof answers a number of important and, for us, necessary quality criteria: urban densification in the vicinity of local amenities and public transport; recycling, upgrading and greening a vacant brownfield along the railway tracks; sharing functions in order to be able to offer a higher quality of life at a reasonable cost; combining urban nature and urban agriculture in order to strive for a living quality that we have come to call – because of the pandemic – ‘lockdown-compatible’ living.
Bijgaardehof’s specificity lies in the ambition to mutualise a set of functions overlapping at various scales: the three residential groups each have a communal space with a collective kitchen, dining room, living room, laundry room and a play area for the children, and together they share a workshop, quiet areas, a winter garden, a workshop, a roof garden for urban agriculture, collective generation of renewable energy, all with an added value to the neighbourhood and the city of Gent. Biotope has also committed to building an “inclusion” unit, which will serve as long term housing for a refugee family.
The commitment and vision of sogent and the city of Ghent for the redevelopment of this abandoned factory site was crucial. They decided not to simply sell the land to the highest bidder, but to invest in a programme with a social dynamic and a qualitative masterplan. Through Energent, the cohousers were provided with subsidies for the extraction of geothermal heat, and they made access via the shopping centre to the north of the site possible.
For us, the design of a cohousing project is by definition a participatory process, a form of co-creation that goes much further than the traditional design process. In the case of Bijgaardehof, a transversal organisation brought the representatives of each cohousing group together with the design team to reflect jointly upon multiple topics such as mobility, sustainability, shared use and more, in order to challenge the programme with bottom up participation and generate co-creation. In addition, we took the initiative to discuss with each future co-houser their own residential wishes. Setting up this consultation structure and bringing together the various residential wishes in a balanced architectural whole were part of the design brief. This ensured that Bijgaardehof was not only the subject of an architectural design, but was also the design of a participatory process. The relationship between architect and client thus became enriching and rewarding for everyone.