Loose fit, designing for shrinkage

In several regions in the Netherlands ‘shrinkage’ instead of growth is the process that currently influences the future of our cities and villages. Shrinkage often starts with a decrease of population and then households. It manifests itself in empty buildings and negatively affects the quality of life. To encounter this problem the traditional instruments of planning and design are unfit, since they are founded on a condition of growth.

In Sas van Gent, situated in the region of Zeeuws Vlaanderen, we mapped all empty buildings and plots and registered an abundance of space without programme. Obviously the development of new real estate will not be appropriate, but there are other options. We also met a strong community that wants to actively participate in creating a better future for their environment. We developed a number of interrelated projects for Sas van Gent that hardly cost any money, but that does ask for a lot of time and energy from participants.

On the northern edge of Sas van Gent we can rebuild the historical ramparts of the town by using the material of empty houses that are to be demolished. These ramparts offer an elevated walk with a beautiful view on the town. As a park they include an abandoned sugar factory. We propose to remove the fences around the factory and to animate its beautiful spaces for local youth and children. Simple means like smart depaving and a playground constructed out of bricks from the demolished houses can turn the place into a real public space. A repaint of the factory’s grand silo provides an immediate landmark for Sas van Gent. In the neighbourhood where houses will be demolished, the surplus space can allow an existing children’s farm to expand. The space of an adjacent empty school building will serve as new stables and the its perimeters for growing crops to feed the animals.

Download: project booklet (PDF | 30mb)