Marten Loopmans

gruppo A12

Transitory, nomadic, temporary, transient, ephemeral, itinerant, migratory, fugitive, migrant, erratic. All these adjectives can be associated to the situation many inhabitants of the con­temporary city find themselves in. These inhabitants, who make up an increasing part of the urban population but are often not recognized as full citizens, are the international migrants. The mobility of the labour force seems to be one of the most powerful elements contributing to the global transformation we experience today. While an increase of moving, migration and increased mobility is seen as a consequence of the expansion of the capital exploitation of the labour, it might as well contain the immanent force able to subvert the power and the sovereignty of the established. The lines of passage for these moving masses are crossing the globe, connecting nodes that coincide with major political and economic capitals and ancient cities. As a consequence, these cities are undergoing significant social and political changes.

Immigration as undisputable condition

Immigration and renewal have always been an undisputable condition for the proliferation of the capitalist city. The city is the place where capital concentrates and materialises, and it needs labour flooding in from its surroundings which produces the necessary surplus for its survival. nonetheless the new functions and directions of migration in the current global economy have substituted the Weberian symbiosis between city and citizenship, polis and civitas by a new one, where urban space is just a temporary setting for the transient settlements of passing workers.
Redesigning the cities, reinventing the use of the public and private spaces, injecting new energy into the urban organisms of the continent, contaminating and hybridising traditions and uses, the people that are moving towards the city in search for better conditions of life, contribute to the collapse of boundaries and of all stable and fixed configurations within the city. Therefore it is impossible to speak of autochthonous and allochtonous, of the 'established and the outsiders' in the contemporary city: all inhabitants are transformed into migrants, being affected by the same migratory condition.

Antwerp and immigration

Antwerp, Europe's second largest port, equally functions as a node in contemporary international migrant movements. Yet also historically, Antwerp city life has been largely affected by its international relations and by its immigration fluxes. As the development of Antwerp is strongly determined by its port and its position in global trade routes, the glory periods of Antwerp have always been connected to an intensified immigration and demographic and spatial expansion. During its three major growth phases, immigration waves have thoroughly reshaped the city's social and physical structure.
In its first phase of growth in the six­teenth century, when Antwerp succeeded Venice as the leading European centre of global trade, the city attracted immigrants from the surrounding duchesse of Brabant as well as from The Netherlands, France, Germany and other European countries, making the Antwerp population grow to a number of more than 100 000.
After a long period of decline resulting from the seventeenth century religious wars between Holland and Spain, Antwerp experienced a second major growth phase in the second half of the nineteenth century connected to colonial trade and the early Belgian industrialisation. The harbour became a major distribution centre for the intense exchange of products between Western Europe and the rest of the world, and was also a major transition point in the transatlantic migration route to the Americas. Masses of paupers, attracted by the American dream came to Antwerp from Germany and Eastern Europe to cross the Atlantic. Some of them found refuge in Antwerp after being refused on the boat to America, contributing to the large poor labour force that came in from the rest of the country. They were housed in monotonous working class neighbourhoods with badly equipped houses in the old medieval centre, but also in the rapidly growing nineteenth century city expansion. In the twentieth century, large social housing estates outside the former city wall would form a relief for the demographic pressure on these areas and offer moderate, yet far more liveable housing conditions. A small part of the immigrant population consisted of rich traders attracted by the rapid expansion of the port and by the newly established function of diamond trade. Those richer populations chose to live in the more spacious south of the town, far from the port- and industrial area.
Antwerp's third growth phase started in the second half of the twentieth century. After the second World War, Antwerp experienced massive international industrial investment and grew not only to the status of a major port, but became the world's second largest concentration of petrochemical industries as well; The developing Belgian welfare state created a massive middle class that spread over a second, suburban higher status belt around the 19th century city. Nowadays, the Antwerp metropolitan area is more than 150 km wide and counts more than 900 000 inhabitants; 460 000 people live within the administrative border of the city. New immigrants from Mediterranean countries such as Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Turkey were attracted to the city from the seventies onward for the dirty and poorly paid jobs and settled in the poorly equipped central city working class neighbourhoods. This first post-war immigration wave was succeeded in the nineties by an increasingly global migrant population from a variety of post-communist and third world countries struck by the foes of global trade, who look for and find a place on the bottom of the Antwerp urban labour and housing market. At the same time, growing international investment attracts a global business elite, who add to the richer suburban and inner city gentrifying population, creating important concentrations of temporary Dutch, German, Scandinavian and Anglo­ Saxon high class inhabitants.
Antwerp, being again an important global trade centre, once and again experiences a significant shift, becoming a point of passage, a temporary container for different cultures and communities. The inhabitants of Antwerp, as all inhabitants of all places, cannot be divided into locals and immigrants. All inhabitants are immigrants, as we all are in the same migratory condition.

Diversity in urban space

Since the early writings of Simmel and Wirth; diversity has always been seen as one of the traditional core elements of a city. Yet nowadays, it is imposing itself more directly on all inhabitants of the contemporary global city. Whereas the nineteenth century 'flaneur' could still wander the streets and seem untouched by the wide variety of urban life, contemporary inhabitants are inevitably affected by the increasing diversity in urban space.
In reaction, people reject public life and retreat in private to avoid the disorderly view of diversity [1]. The safety of the small circle of look-alikes is preferred above the confusing outside-world of others. At best, the 'other' can be 'tolerated' and observed from a distance: the other is being familiarised into a knowledgeable object in rituals of multicultural consumption and exotism in a way similar to the presentation of the fascinating wilderness in a National Geographic documentary. At worst, the other is being rejected and refused access even to the public sphere in a withdrawal to nationalist and racist phantasms.
Both cases boil down to an anxious denial of otherness. Seldom, the 'other' is given the right to be a differing, yet autonomous subject, only very rarely one tries to understand the other in his/her otherness.
Though privatisation is an understandable attempt to cope with the new urban configuration, it cannot be a definitive answer to the related political and social questions. Increasing diversity continues to affect the social and political constitution of the city as people are claiming recognition for their diverse needs. The simple denial of variety does not support a satisfying organisational solution in this prospect. Instead of multiculturalism or the hardheaded refusal of it, both denying diversity and refusing open contact, recent debates on the concept of interculturalism might contribute to a solution:
In contrast to multicultural consumptionism, intercultural debate requires equal power relations and mutual recognition as a starting point. Under the condition of equality, the other can no longer be an object of study or consumption, but is able to speak up for himself within an egalitarian atmosphere. Intercultural exchange does not eliminate conflict, as the model of multicultural tolerance does. Therefore, Intercultural exchange can put some things at risk, but is inevitable and enriching. An intercultural society requires the mutual recognition of the right to be autonomous and different as well as the admission of the need to cooperate, as Ludo Abicht, one of the leading contemporary Belgian philosophers states in his latest publication:

'Als we het hebben over een 'interculturele samenleving', bedoelen we dat we alle deelnemers aan die samenleving als autonome subjecten en volwaardige partners beschouwen, dat we anders gezegd tegelijkertijd het recht op eigenheid van elk van deze culturen en de behoefte tot samenwerking voorstaan'[2] (Abicht, 2001: p.129)

Intercultural interaction is necessary on an intellectual and philosophical level, trying to understand the other >from his/her own point of view, but also in practical daily life, given the inevitability of interaction with others. Yet in practice, equality is hard to obtain because in everyday interactions, power relations are seldom equal or absent. This is the case in macrosocial relations - for instance most immigrants do not count equally when it comes to political decision making because they are denied full citizenship - as well as in micro-social relationships. Interactions in the public domain occur seldom on an egalitarian base as the means to enforce control over public space are unequally spread over its users. Some groups are able to appropriate a place to a certain extent and exert control over it for different reasons. Local dwellers for instance are more powerful in comparison to once­ only visitors, because of their knowledge of the place, because of the solidarity they can expect from the neighbours, because the area is respected - also by outsiders - as a prolongation of their private sphere. Between different groups of local dwellers power imbalances exist as well. Some groups are more solidary than others, some groups outnumber others, some groups have better contacts with the authorities who in the end possess the final right of control.

The project

The project pH 7,0 (Niemandsland/No man's land) regards the recognition of otherness as an essential urban condition. By an intervention in public space, we want to provoke intercultural confrontation in the everyday life of the multiple Antwerp inhabitants. pH 7.0 wants to create a laboratory-like situation where power relations are as much as possible absent in order to let interaction start from an equal base. pH 7.0 will be a neutral architectural object, a small pavilion, which will be placed in public space. Its main feature being neutrality (as is suggested by the reference to the neutral value on the pH-scale for measuring acidity), pH 7.0 creates a no man's land that will function as a prerequisite for intercultural interaction, much like the function of a no man's land or a neutral space for delicate interstate negotiations.
A neutral architecture, avoiding any symbolical language in the design of the pavilion, will make it accessible to as many different Antwerp inhabitants as possible. Ph 7,0 should be an a-cultural monument, open to all communities.
pH 7.0 should not be seen as yet another attempt of planners and architects to steer people's behaviour by the design of the physical milieu, a 'representation of space' as to speak with the French thinker Henri Lefebvre. pH 7.0 is a space that is in its formal architecture loose and light enough to allow the free development of diverse uses and practices, an abstract space to be turned into 'lived' space. We imagine using a clarity and simplicity of expression derived >from the experience of early modernist architecture that is indeed founded upon notions of egalitarianism.
It is devised as an active monument, not an art-installation to be looked at, but simply a comfortable indoor public space to be used and experienced, available to the city dweller to be temporarily occupied and transformed. The pavilion must be seen as an interesting neutral starting point that will soon be covered by layers of uses and signs as a testimony of everyday interaction. This interaction will soon wipe of the initial utopian neutrality of the space. Yet planting a fresh and initially neutral space into a space as loaded with meaning and power structures as the century old city of Antwerp might open up new ways of dealing with each other and might invoke new practices that would not have been possible before.
The monument should provoke encounter and dialogue as well as confrontation and conflict through its usage, without preliminary imposing a specific model of interaction. Therefore Ph 7,0 will also avoid any explicit or symbolic reference to tolerance. pH 7.0 is not meant to teach people tolerance from above, but to make people experience in a Socratic way their own interest in intercultural interaction.


Ph 7,0 is a temporary covered and heated public space that might be used for any purpose. No particular usage is attributed to it, or rather every possible usage is allowed. As it is located in public space, any use will provoke some kind of interaction. As it is a temporary stop where movement and trajectories might slow down and find a rest, we imagine a limited architecture whose presence and consistency would not be mimetic of the urban scenery, but rather distinguishing the pavilion >from its context. As recent research suggests, it is not the public or private sphere that enables inter-group interaction, but what lies in between, the semi-public domain that is publicly accessible but offers the opportunity of limited control and comfort [3].
Ph 7,0 is a square pavilion, raised circa 1,5 meter from the ground but reachable through a gentle slope. The four walls of the pavilion are realised in transparent coloured glass. The structure consists of steel columns and steel beams, with no supporting elements inside.
An electric heating system and a series of closets containing small stools, pillows and a movable table hidden in the floor allows for some comfort, while a curtain hanging from the ceiling allows to shade the inside space from three sides. The glass walls are sliding to bring air in from the outside in summer.
A tap and a sink inside the pavilion provide the visitor with hot and cold water, while an electric cooker and sockets offer the opportunity to prepare a small dish or hot beverages. The pavilion is 4 meters high inside, lights are worked in the ceiling. Outside the pavilion, there are shelves where to leave shoes before entering the space.

Conflict and negotiation

Access to the pavilion will be regulated by distributing keys to different inhabitants of the area, to associations and to public institutions so that these keys can be requested for temporary use by the public. The pavilion can be locked >from the outside, but not from the inside: When someone is inside the pavilion, access is possible for everyone else. Imaginably, the person who is inside the pavilion first will have a determining impact on the use of the pavilion. Yet by distributing keys to different groups, the power to determine the use of the pavilion will be redistributed every time someone else decides to open up the pavilion. The decision of who will use the pavilion at what time lies in the hands of those who received a key.
This way, simply distributing the keys to different communities in the neighbourhood will provoke conflict and negotiation between different groups with equal power relations.
When left empty the pavilion should be closed. The pavilion should be available for use 24 hours a day. The pavilion will be cleaned daily by municipal cleaners as every other public space.
The whole pavilion can be easily dismantled and transported. Ph 7,0 will tour across Antwerp like a circus, pitching its tent on particular locations, points of passage, of transit, where passers-by and inhabitants might use it.
The locations for the project are chosen for its interesting opportunities to provoke intercultural dialogue. In our choice, we took into account the historical background of the area and the contemporary cultural mix. The relevance of the historical background relates to the continuous con­ tributing and layering of symbols and practices in urban space through history, which will invoke older areas to be loaded with more, but also more diverse symbols, while more recently built-up areas will have a less rooted, yet more one-dimensional meaning. The implantation of a fresh, clear public space will have different effects in both types.
The contemporary cultural mix determines the possible variety of uses and practices that can be invoked by the new public space.

The five places

We selected five different places where the pavilion should be located, in a line from the north of the city to the south, these are: Kiel, St-Andries, Central Park­ Kievitsquare, Central Station area and Ekeren.
pH 7.0 will depart in the Kiel neighbourhood. This is one of the oldest neighbourhoods outside the former city wall (now substituted by the Ringway) and has its origins in a independent medieval village. Nonetheless its main development was connected to the end of the second growth period of the city of Antwerp. The Kiel area was the location for the World Exhibition as well as for the Olympic Games in the twenties and was being redeveloped into a mixed working- and high­ class neighbourhood afterwards. The Kiel neighbourhood is centred around a shopping street and the still-existing Olympic soccer stadium, attracting a strange mixture of shopping fanatics and football fans in the weekend. The neighbourhood is split in two by a broad lane, the Jan Devoslei. West of it, you find a predominantly working class area with a relatively high number of poor immigrants (originally mostly of Spanish, but now mainly of Moroccan origin), on the Jan Devoslei the Kielpark-project borders this area. It is a large modernist social housing estate designed in the 1950's. East of the Jan Devoslei, the so called Exhibition neighbourhood is a relict of the World Exhibition. It is home for a more affluent, relatively older Belgian population. Since much of the problematic intercultural relations are intensely related to problematic class relations, locating the pavilion under the feet of the Kielpark project, on the frontier between rich and poor, Belgian and foreign, old and established and young and newcomer promises interesting intercultural contacts.
The St-Andries neighbourhood makes up a very specific thread in the Antwerp urban tissue; from the sixteenth century on, it was the traditional poor area of the city (which explains it's nickname 'Parish of Misery'), with its disorderly space of small streets and passages; still during the nineteenth century booming period, the St-Andries neighbourhood was infamous for its terrible living conditions, serving as a place of passage for the above mentioned transatlantic migrants, who found a temporary refuge in its many hostels and inns of ill reputation.
Since the 1970's however, the quarter was one of the first to be touched by gentrification, to the extent that most of the area (especially near the waterfront) is currently occupied by the well-to-do, often Dutch immigrants, with the exception of a few social housing estates that serve as a last straw for the poor in the city centre. This interesting mix makes the St-Andriesquarter show us both sides of the coin of international migration, poor and ultra-rich.
Locating the pavilion in the centre of this area on the St-Andries-square will invoke an interesting confrontation of both worlds.
Moving away from the old medieval city centre, we shift to the contemporary urban core. The central station does not only attract international businesses in the surrounding CBD (Central Business District), but also functions as an end station for international migrants. The area is the most vibrant and metropolitan, yet at the same time the poorest of Antwerp, being the milieu for survival of poor Mediterranean, African and Asian transnational migrants. Living in dilapidated nineteenth century working class houses, these immigrants survive by informal self-employment or selling off their labour Force in the most miserable conditions. The De Conincksquare functions as the cross point for all these different cultures and is, with its many pubs and bars not only a place for meeting and gathering to some, but also of transit to others. This square will be the location for the pavilion in this neighbourhood.
Antwerp is also reknown for its important Jewish community. Occupying a key position in the city's diamond business, some 16.000 Jews live (mainly) between the Central Station and the City Park. They constitute a very secretive community that avoids contact with the outside world. At the east side of this neighbourhood, just across the railway, Jews live intermingled with a Muslim population of mainly Moroccan origin around the Kievitsquare. Yet in 2005, a new station built for international High Speed Train passengers will give out onto this square. The rising land prices resulting from this development threatens both communities with displacement in favour of an expanding CBD. The pavilion will be located here at the now more or less void space of the Kievitsquare.
The last neighbourhood pH 7.0 will call at is Ekeren in the north. Ekeren only became part of the Antwerp cityscape during the latest developmental phase in the second half of the twentieth century and consequently makes up a conglomerate of suburbia around an old rural centre. Ekeren is one of the Antwerp districts inhabited mainly by high class Belgian or international, predominantly Dutch, suburbanites working in international management functions related to the nearby port of Antwerp.
Yet, Ekeren is also the location for one of the most recent spatial expressions of Belgian immigration history. The old abandoned hospital of St-Lucas is now the location for a refugee camp/asylum centre, where asylum seekers are obliged to wait for their eventual residence permit or expulsion. Most asylum centres are located away from the central city, scattered across suburbia where they provoke a lot of controversy and opposition >from the suburbanites, anxious for a drop of their real estate value.
Interestingly, the location of asylum centres in the midst of what are among the richest neighbourhoods in Belgium brings the top layer of society in direct contact with the poorest of the poor who have left even their scarce possessions behind. This class contrast adds to the enormous diversity in cultures and backgrounds of the inhabitants and reveals the big difference between the two most fluid strata of contemporary urban population, the international footloose business elite and the equally footloose migrant proletariat. The pavilion will be placed at the front door of the asylum centre, offering the opportunity to camp dwellers as well as surrounding suburbanites to occupy the place.


  1. See Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, Norton, New York 1992 (1976) ↩︎

  2. See Ludo Abicht, Intelligente emotie, Houtekiet, Antwerpen, 2001 ↩︎

  3. See Maarten Loopmans, Sociaal kapitaal, territorialiteit en ontmoetingsplaatsen: lessen uit een interculturele vergeliijking, in Cultuur en Migratie, 2002 (forthcoming) ↩︎

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