The past few decades Leuven went through several stages of urban renewal. These developments were primarily focused on creating additional residential and commercial spaces, and kickstarted a gentrification process, in which economically vulnerable programs such as industrial activity, distribution or cultural production were gradually pushed out of city center. With the nearing completion of the last large inner city development areas of the Vaartkom and the Hertogensite the transformation of Leuven's city center to a residential and service-oriented area seems complete.
In the upcoming years, the focus will now shift to the 20th century fringe. These areas might lack the identity or coherence of the historic core, their isotropic urban fabric accommodates to less visible but equally important urban activities, previously also present in the center. The development of these areas is in need of new urban projects, innovative architectural typologies and broad-based coalitions, which can both reaffirm the existing programmatic diversity in these neighborhoods as accommodate to an increase in density and quality.
Within this 20th century fringe, the left bank of the Vaart Leuven-Mechelen is one of the urban 'reserves' in which a hybrid melting pot of urban programs is combined with a low intensity of use of space. Unlike the right bank, which is dominated by large scale industrial production facilities and logistics, the left bank is heterogeneous, illegible and deceptive. Its ambiguous condition is slipping through the cracks of formal spatial planning and housing an unexpected and experimental mix of programs.
With the redevelopment of the 4,5h industrial site bordering on this lef bank, the need for a vision emerges. Given the complex condition of the area and the lack of a clear spatial framework, the urban project becomes again the starting point for a territorial strategy for the future of the Vaart and the village of Wilsele. The acknowledgment of the Vaart as a valuable hybrid urban space combined with the recognition of the rooted qualities of the landscape and its topography are key in designing a new spatial backbone for gradual transformation. The approach aims to transcend existing horizontal methods of planning and seeks to explore innovative architectural typologies and new coalitions of stakeholders. Finally, the project is both investigating and putting to practice the reintegration of the valley and its canal as combining new models of living and working in the 20th century fringe.