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Cultures, Communities and Design

Mapping lifelines and tracing tendencies: how the design of infrastructure networks impacts urban transformation in dispersed territories
S. Leemans et al.
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Besides compact cities, Western Europe is characterized by low-density dispersion, resulting in a landscape with elements of both ‘city’ and ‘land’. These dispersed territories offer an alternative interpretation to the traditional urban-rural dichotomy and have been put forward as twenty-first-century cities (Secchi, 2009; Studio 010, Secchi, & Viganò, 2012). However, these territories are currently facing urgent and complex issues on their ‘lifelines’ i.e., the underlying hard infrastructure networks such as roads, waterways and electricity networks. This paper focuses on the relation between infrastructure networks and dispersion in the case of the Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai (EM). This cross-border region is facing issues regarding its lacking or ageing infrastructure such as insufficient sewage, renewable energy production and crumbling bridges from the sixties. This paper states that the evolution of this dispersed territory is closely intertwined with its infrastructures. Subsequently, the hypothesis is that new infrastructures or the reinterpretation of existing ones will eventually result in a new kind of urbanity. Therefore, the objective of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it gives an interpretation through time on the relation between infrastructures and dispersion. And secondly, it describes the current state and explores future forms of the territory. This is done through descriptive and interpretative analysis with digital and analogue mappings, enabling a multi-scalar reading of case studies in the EM. As a result, the paper distinguishes several tendencies reflecting that societal shifts in dispersed territories can be clearly read off the changes in infrastructure networks. Moreover, infrastructure shapes and is shaped by the landscape in a significant way. In the light of these findings, it is argued that dispersed territories such as the EM can be reedited by territory by evaluating and rethinking its infrastructures. Small-scale interventions in infrastructure nodes can become the motor of change influencing the dialogue land and city in dispersion.


Sophie Leemans (1996) obtained a Master’s in Architecture at KU Leuven Sint-Lucas Brussels campus where she graduated summa cum laude and was laureate of the master’s programme. During her studies she completed an exchange to Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and took part in several international projects such as a research project on local identity and change in Bolivia and the interdisciplinary honours program Think Tank with Stellenbosch University. Her master thesis emphasised the positive impact of water infrastructure on daily life and received several awards. After graduating, she obtained an Erasmus+ grant to gain practical experience in urban planning at the Berlin-based office TSPA. Since March 2020, she is a full-time PhD researcher at the Department of Architecture of KU Leuven Sint-Lucas Ghent campus, for which she has recently obtained the FWO Fellowship fundamental research. Her research is part of the All City/All Land Research Cell and focuses on the design potential of infrastructure nodes to shape a more qualitative and sustainable dispersed urbanisation in the case of the Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai. As part of her PhD, she has presented at several international conferences and gained experience in teaching at master level.

Erik Van Daele (1962) is lecturer and studio master at the university of Leuven (Department of Architecture), Belgium. He received a Master’s in Architecture at the School of Architecture, Sint- Lucas, Ghent (currently KUL faculty of architecture campus Ghent), a master’s in theory and history at the KUL (campus Leuven), extension studies program at the AA school of architecture in London and received a master in urbanism and spatial planning at the KUL (campus Leuven). From 1998 till 2014 he was associate in the design firm uapS, Paris. As from 2015 he works as a consultant developing spatial concepts and strategies in architecture, urbanism and planning. In his PhD study (hybrids as open signifiers) he explored design challenges in the dispersed city.

Maarten Gheysen (1975) holds a degree in architecture and in urban design and planning. During the years 2001 & 2002 he worked in the office of Xaveer de Geyter Architects (B) where collaborated on After-Sprawl, a research project on the contemporary Flemish condition. From 2002 till 2020 he was a collaborator of the inter-municipal development agency Leiedal (Kortrijk, Belgium). Recently he founded his own firm, ‘Studio urban advice and design’. As urban designer he is dealing with a wide range of projects including planning, European Interreg-projects, policy making, urban projects and public spaces. Since 2006 Maarten has been teaching in the architecture studios at the Faculty of Architecture KU Leuven (campus Ghent). Confronting the students with the daily reality of the peri-urban condition and noticing the paradigm shift in the dichotomous relation between the urban and rural gave motivation to formulate a PhD-research (completed in 2020). In 2021 he started a tenure track professorship at KU Leuven on the subject of public space in dispersed territories.