Before drafting any project, our team, composed of architects, town planners, surveyors and one photograph, decided to discover the built-up area of Sambreville and the studied site through its inhabitants.
Using community websites, we made appointments with some residents who will show us streets, customs and pathways of the Auvelais town. As soon as we arrive on a market day, all questions we were asking ourselves were answered through the stories of a handful of interviewed inhabitants: what is Auvelais’ history? Who lives there? Who works there? What are the road and railway moves? etc.
In a first phase we discovered the land through the personal and partial stories of some residents, allowing us to access symbolic and unusual places. This initial approach was completed in a second phase by a foot discovery with maps, sort of land “surveying”.
During this in situ survey, we wore the hat of a new profession: surveyor. The surveyor uses its competences and instinct to observe what happens at all scales, understanding the significance of the smallest versus the greatest and the other way round.
To survey is to observe a situation with a new look that can’t be perceived on a daily basis. The surveyor’s look translates the realities of a place through cartography, stories, photo reports and compares with the local situation: social occupation, parcel shape, land value, allotment, topography, climate constraints and political influences. The surveyor thus gives consistency to a land.
This sensitive reading of the land reveals already existing assets. We go on-site looking for built or non-built areas that support projects refocusing on what is already present. We make the inventory of what is available in the neighbourhood of the various existing community services rather than taking over a natural site that would be limited to an immediately operational study perimeter.
In addition, we completed this on-site work with a thematic and systematic research:
– geographically with the importance of topography and of the canalled Sambre
– economically with the historic implantation of the chemical industry since the establishment of the Solvay process and of the glass industry later on
– socially with demographic variations caused by worker job opportunities.
Looking at those items together shapes the history of both Auvelais and of the whole Sambre valley from Charleroi to Namur.
Locally, the industrial background begins with colliery, continues through the sodium carbonate chemical industry and the glass artwork with St Roc factory for plate glass and its related field activities such as felting art. In the second half of the 20th century, the glass industry becomes a heavy industry, largely fed by sand carried by barges on the Sambre. Finally, the industrial environment encourages the incoming of heavy activities such as the manufacture of tool machines or rolling bridges.
Our surveyor work, completed by historical research, questioned the initial statement: a left bank environmental friendly district? On-site we found out that the land initially chosen to setup the new district was a natural site with abounding vegetation and with sometimes ingenuous but often leisure related customs.
Our project represents an alternative to the left bank construction and offers a scattering of new constructions on routes linking natural areas to be transformed and the town centre. Some natural areas are still to be conquered along the Sambre. They could be linked to the existing wood areas in a continuous long natural area that would be open to leisure activities to everyone. These areas would be part of a continuous ecological corridor from Charleroi to Namur.
On top of its landscape assets, this strategy that aims at building according to land availabilities avoids investing in roads and networks. The left bank site is somehow isolated between the railway and the Sambre. It would require significant costs for the development of a building site that would be covered by a high property tax. The balance of the financial setup would draw the lines of a dense district that would be isolated from the rest of the town.
On the contrary, our alternative project takes place on already built parcels. The demographic study shows a growth of 40 inhabitants per year, i.e. approximately 15 housings. Our proposal fractions the new housing offer into several entities of around 10 housings. Every year a new operation would start, representing approximately 150 housings over 10 years.
In light of inhabitant stories and of our research work we walked along the streets and paths of Auvelais, looking for land opportunities. We systematically recorded land opportunities and then categorised them by parcel type or available building sites with a short description and location:
a. Fields. Available parcel forming both an urban infill site and an access in heart city block of the fir plantation between the Falisolle and Radache streets and the avenue des Anciens Combattants.
b. Hills. Hillside parcels with important downslope, old pasture, next to the wood of Sarte, with private entrances through abandoned garages that could be rehabilitated on Rominet street.
c. Property holdings. Old factories that are currently occupied or disused on parcels bridging Contй street and Hicguet street. We can also wonder what the old felting factory will become as it is currently used by town workshops but it could on the middle term be transformed and opened on the towpath along the Sambre.
LEFT BANK PARK
The initially suggested site is located next to the railway, the canalled Sambre banks, the inner harbour and at the back next to the French military cemetery and the Belle Sambre shopping zoning. It offers natural areas to re-conquer with the asset of post industrial spontaneous vegetation.
The central part’s entrance is currently a narrow footbridge that is linked to the rail bridge. A footbridge enlargement project would facilitate the pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Historically the site was hosting a pony club and today kitchen gardens have wildly been taking over this natural site. In order to reinforce this reality, we suggest light interventions on this land: creation of footpath, development of kitchen gardens, pony club, camping, BMX area, VTT single track, wildlife observation point.
On the north part, a primary birch forest has grown on the lands of an old factory. The memory of industrial chemical activity still lives through polluted lands. Could the Sambre that is today canalled to monitor floods live again with vegetal areas along side? Vegetal areas would take the format of parks with phytoremediation cleanup basins on old industrial sites. The south part of the site where the obsolete inner harbour is could offer the opportunity of exploiting the existing infrastructure and of transforming it into a future marina.
Once land opportunities have been found, grouped housings with very specific architectures will host parcels. This specification corresponds to individual parameters of parcels as they are described above. Our subjective reading of observed situations has been inspiring projects.
Our project invents “light” urban and architectural forms that work on the ground whilst respecting natural vegetation cycles; the “full ground” notion and water flow. We are convinced that the ground can be utilised differently and that a new relationship between vegetation and building can be established within one and the same environment.
Our buildings are setup to organise the relationship between inside – intimate environment – and outside – shared environment – through a precisely described architecture and an implementation at a town scale. Below are to be found samples of local architectures on a selected set of five land opportunities.
a1. Furrow architecture on field parcels. Those are houses placed side by side, each composed of one relatively narrow main room that are constructed in a string of buildings. They are accessed between two buildings in a sort of pedestrian courtyard, winter garden, patio or outside garden.
a2. Hedge architecture on field parcels. Those are attached houses that are constructed in a string of buildings. Their floor number varies with the slope, determining their height, ground holding and front length. They are accessed between a shrubby hedge being there to separate properties and the buildings. The other side of the house is open on a shared garden that provides access through the other separation line to a privately owned kitchen garden.
b1. « One flat room » architecture on hill parcels. Those are separate houses that are vertically composed of one sole room per floor. Their ground holding is very limited. Like trees, those buildings can potentially “grow” by expanding by one room. The houses’ top is often used by a winter garden showing a view on the town and the valley.
c1. Roof architecture on parcels of old factories. Those are workshop-houses that are grouped together and thus form an artwork town. The buildings contain two, three or four roofs that can host every home or artwork activities. Roofs are supported by a simple and light structure that will be part of the activity flexibility.
c2. Shed architecture on the felting factory parcel. This old factory constitutes a significant part of the Auvelais heritage. This is the opportunity to transform it into an inhabited and utilised place linked to the Sambre, to the train station district, to the town square and to the new left bank park. Mid height floors are constructed in order to live in the massive brick building. The roof is pierced to host winter gardens and corridor patios.
The construction of several grouped housings is the opportunity to reinvent a manufacture activity to answer the quantitative and qualitative but every time individual demand. The Research & Development department of the glass research centre in Charleroi could develop new building materials thanks to local know-how, natural resources and waste recycling.
These studies would entail the invention of glass block. It would be manufactured from cement, water, sand, glass powder and PET fibres and would form compact and incompressible cell foam. This new composite would be light, very resistant and of variable shapes and dimensions. It would be manufactured either in block with standard dimensions, whereby its lightness would allow big handling formats, or in finished items: beams, porticos, slabs, self-supporting box beams. These physical and mechanical proprieties enable for solidity as supporting elements, heat insulation in mass, internal and external decoration and also architectural finishing by mixing cement to glass powder and the regular weft of PET fibre.
The implementation of this manufacture activity would provide all construction works within the region with local materials and would allow factories of the Sambre valley to be reconverted. In addition, this industrial relocation would boost the labour market.
UNIQUE AND SYNTHETIC DRAWING
Our own representation tools show the instinctive investigation of a “lived-in town” with on-site research and inventions of new architectural programmes. Our “unique and synthetic” drawing coupled with a photo report and a series of photo montage point out this interaction between the project’s content and representation.
Our project is a multitude of grouped housing operations split over several built areas close to the town centre, creating however a coherent district. Our drawings show an overall progress report of the urban area and are based on existing assets and available lands.
This is a real alternative to an isolated project that would re-interpret the disillusioned ideal principle of “living on our own in the middle of nature”.
SAMBREVILLE – BELGIUM