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Taking the concept and historical analysis of the petroleumscape as the point of departure, the twelve week Master-level design studio “Architecture and Urbanism Beyond Oil” tackled the question of the future of post-oil cities at TU Delft. This time they looked at Dunkirk, a city in Northern France, where hazardous industries, refineries, huge steel plants, petroleum tanks, and other industrial structures have long dominated the landscape.

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Designing Post-Carbon Dunkirk With Students From TU Delft

Taking the concept and historical analysis of the petroleumscape as the point of departure, the twelve week Master-level design studio “Architecture and Urbanism Beyond Oil” tackled the question of the future of post-oil cities at TU Delft. This time they looked at Dunkirk, a city in Northern France, where hazardous industries, refineries, huge steel plants, petroleum tanks, and other industrial structures have long dominated the landscape.

Design matters. Historically, architects and urbanists have created the spaces of oil and the imagination that goes with it. Today, the same professionals can foster more critical thinking, dreaming and curiosity as they imagine and design the necessary new spaces, forms of urbanity, buildings, and transitions for a period ‘beyond oil’. Educational institutions have an important role to play in developing new ideas. Our built environment has been shaped by and for the flow of oil and its products, and by and for its financial flow as well. The resulting global petroleumscape (which we explored in The Beam #4) of industrial sites, transportation infrastructure, business districts, gasoline stations, cars, refineries and ports, is the manifestation of the omnipresence of oil and our dependency on it. In addition to supplying oil, the petrochemical and building industry collectively developed a huge range of new synthetic and hybrid materials and building elements: from plastic bathroom units to electric cable insulation, from insulation material to plastic windows, from furniture to domestic appliances and toys. These materials and products enthused designers and users alike and have since become standard. The (positive) feedback loop between the global petroleumscape and the way in which it has been represented has influenced the minds of citizens in their everyday life.

Architecture and urbanism beyond oil: design education

Taking the concept and historical analysis of the petroleumscape as the point of departure, the twelve week Master-level (MSc 2) design studio “Architecture and Urbanism Beyond Oil” (developed by Carola Hein, who co-taught it with Henri van Bennekom, with the assistance of Paolo De Martino) tackled the question of the future of post-oil cities at TU Delft. This time they looked at Dunkirk, a city in Northern France, where hazardous industries, refineries, huge steel plants, petroleum tanks, and other industrial structures have long dominated the landscape. The commercial activities of the refinery in Dunkirk ended in 2016. Now the city must regenerate and re-imagine itself, making it a unique site for testing new research approaches to overcoming oil-dependent built environments (Fig. 1).

The studio carefully took students through a structured four-step process: investigate, experience, define, design. Students investigated the historical, political, social, economic and ecological aspects of the diverse oil-related spaces throughout the city and the larger metropolitan area. Direct experience of the site and interviews with local actors help them to grasp its character, form and function.

Based on an analytical reading of maps, historical documents, and materials from the historical archives in Dunkirk, students then “defined the site,” that is they translated their research into individual approaches and methodologies, and created visual representations of their findings: “collages of knowledge.”

Reflecting on the different layers of the complex territory, they identified common themes and potential design locations to work with. They “designed scenarios” (Fig.2), variously showing (i) how to imagine new narratives for the port city of Dunkirk, (ii) how to reclaim polluted soils, (iii) how to reuse oil facilities in a more creative way, or (iv) how to reimagine the port and coastline through long-term greening.

Fig. 1: Top to bottom: BP City, a neighborhood built by the oil company next to the refinery, thrived in the 1950s but is completely abandoned today. The Total Flandres oil refinery has become a training site for the oil industry under the name Oleum.

Fig. 2: Alina da Porciuncula Paias identified historical narratives and proposed spatializing memory. She focused on the hidden and forgotten narratives of Dunkirk as expressed in historical (oil-related) architectures that are currently abandoned or underused. She proposed to place what she called “memory totems” in spaces that relate to the city memory and identity. These totems, created by reusing materials from unused ships and industrial structures, are meant to spatialize memories, reconnecting citizens to their history while projecting its future.

Fig. 3: Recognizing the importance of the cultural and social dimensions of the energy transition from oil to new sources of energy, Johan Martin Dahlberg proposed to use waste as a resource in the transition. He envisioned reinventing and transforming the oil industry and the port with all its infrastructure, adapting old structures to the new needs of the society siting new industries between the city and the port, to educate current and future citizens about sustainable ways. He called for a “monument for the gone oil.”

Fig. 4 — Jaap van den Hoogen took the concept of the energy transition and reuse of industrial spaces even further, by proposing an algae factory in the harbor areas as response to the plastic industry. The new algae bioplastic industry represents a place for innovation where new economies and business opportunities can be developed.

Fig. 5 — Reclaiming the land used by oil and other heavy industry requires extensive cleanup of soil, air, and water contaminated by chemical products. Mireia Almagro Romeu proposed phytoremediation to temporarily make the reclaimed land a green area for citizens. Her second step called for gradually re-naturalizing the oilfield into a permanent park connecting the city and the sea.

Fig. 6 — To reintegrate underutilized spaces generated by oil into the city, specifically an abandoned oil refinery, Alexis Keng Yee Oh proposed “urban agripuncture,” or creating new pathways and points of attraction around industrial areas. She envisioned this as a step towards fully renovating the refinery.

Fig. 7 — Under the title “Emptiness Charged,” Joris Klein explored the energy dimension of oil. He proposed to float large storage vessels in the water between the Braek Dyke and Dunkirk city to store energy in water-so-called blue energy — and to equip it with recreational facilities, arguing that the energy transition will require the city to entirely rethink the relations between energy, infrastructure and landscape.

Finally, a larger masterplan connected all the student design projects into a synergy of proposed opportunities for Dunkirk.

Fig.8 — The Masterplan for Dunkirk aims to provide a foundation for Dunkirk’s transition to renewable energy. It envisions the port area of Dunkirk as a newly habitable area of the city, no longer an industrial platform behind the port. A new ecological infrastructure reconnects all the disconnected pieces of the city. By creating a circular economy and emphasizing clean energy production, and by generating new appreciation of the local qualities, the masterplan promotes the transition from carbon-based energies to a more flexible renewable energy system and less energy consumption overall.

Changing the energy landscape will require the government, the private sector, and local communities to engage in dismantling, transforming and reusing oil-based industrial cities with innovative and strategic processes. What role can architects and urbanists play in this transition to a new energy future? Can themes and methodologies of architectural education respond to the possibility of a post-oil society?

The student projects exemplify this necessary rethinking of the current cultural and economic model. Despite their differences, all the student projects focus through the lens of post-oil spaces on the interconnection between new economic, social, cultural and environmental issues: writing new narratives to re-establish collective memories for communities, regenerating old oil industries as living laboratories, creating energy-storing sea barriers to respond to future energy needs, and producing local food to achieve a circular economy. The director of the Learning Center in Dunkerque, Marnix Bonnike, who kindly supported the initiative, characterised the responses by this group of students from different nationalities as a “fresh look at the territory” and one that “authorises a future other than that based on the productivist model. As he says “It is a matter of imagining a sustainable revitalisation of the wastelands of the 20th — oil — century.”

References

Hein, C. “Between Oil and Water. The Logistical Petroleumscape.” In The Petropolis of Tomorrow, edited by Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Casper. New York: Actar Publishers, 2013.

Hein, C. “Global Landscapes of Oil.” In New Geographies 02: Landscapes of Energy, edited by

Rania Ghosn: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Hein, C. “How the Fourth Industrial Revolution Will Change the Energy Landscape.” BEAM (2017).

Hein, C. “Port Cities: Nodes in the Global Petroleumscape between Sea and Land.” TECHNOSPHERE MAGAZINE (2016). https://technosphere-magazine.hkw.de/article1/a533bca0-08ba-11e7-b921-a58643285390.

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The Beam Magazine is an independent climate solutions and climate action magazine. It tells about the most exciting solutions, makes a concrete contribution to eliminating climate injustices and preserving this planet for all of us in its diversity and beauty. Our cross-country team of editors works with a network of 150 local journalists in 50 countries talking to change makers and communities. THE BEAM is published in Berlin and distributed in nearly 1,000 publicly accessible locations, to companies, organizations and individuals in 40 countries across the world powered by FairPlanet.

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