De Feyter / Baukultur in a superdiverse society

Baukultur in a superdiverse society design-driven participatory action research in the case of the Ten Eekhovelei

Authors: Nathan De Feyter; Johan De Walsche, prof. dr. ir.arch., University of Antwerp; Thomas Vanoutrive, prof. dr., University of Antwerp; Marleen Goethals, University of Antwerp

Supervisors: Johan De Walsche, prof. dr. ir.arch., University of Antwerp

Research stage: PhD, early stage

Category: Extended abstract

Baukultur and Superdiversity

This paper is part of a doctoral research project within ISTT (Interdisciplinary Studio for Territories in Transition /, a research unit at the Faculty of Design Sciences of the University of Antwerp, which positions itself at the point where architecture and urban development meet. The project that is presented here investigates the tension that might occur between the European policy discourse about Baukultur, suggesting the possibility of a unifying concept on the one hand, and the reality of - and theory-building about – a superdiverse society. The research aims (i) to investigate the tension between the concept of ‘Baukultur’ in the reality of a superdiverse society (ii) to reveal a knowledge gap in urban development policy when it comes to vulnerable neighbourhoods (iii) to explore up to which extent a better insight into spatial aspects related to superdiversity, provides solid ground for recalibrating policy about Baukultur to prevent gentrification.

To do so, the research relies on a Design-Driven Participatory Action Research (DD-PAR) methodology, in rapidly transforming vulnerable neighbourhoods with shifting building cultures. This paper reports on the case of Ten Eekhovelei in Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium.

Therefore, the central research question is: How might a better insight into spatial practices of a superdiverse neighbourhood, direct the decision-making about urban development, more particularly for the reconversion of the Ten Eekhovelei in Antwerp? This central research question entails the following secondary research questions: (i) Which spatial practices that are not or insufficiently considered in current decision-making about urban development are essential, relevant and/or inspiring for future scenarios? (ii) How are superdiverse spatial practices challenging the understanding of the ‘Baukultur’ goals and ideals? (iii) How could a better understanding of the diversity of spatial practices change our way of conceiving urban neighbourhoods?

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei street facades [Photo]. Made by author.

Figure 1: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei street facades [Photo]. Made by author.

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades [Photo]. Made by author.

Figure 2: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades [Photo]. Made by author.

The case of Ten Eekhovelei

This paper describes ongoing research in the Ten Eekhovelei in Deurne, Antwerp. Ten Eekhove was selected as a case to study building- and living cultures and the effects of top-down city planning. There are several reasons why we hope to learn a lot from this case. Firstly, the street is located in one of Antwerp's most diverse neighbourhoods (Stad Antwerpen, 2023a). Secondly, the city plans to firmly upgrade the street and its surroundings in the future (De Grote Verbinding, 2022), creating “momentum" and interest from both residents and planners, as the future of today’s residents is very much up for discussion. Additionally, an existing community centre is located in the street, which could provide "access" to residents and their way of living. Lastly, previous research at our faculty already uncovered traces of interesting spatial practices in the area, like a study on the supra- local mosque in the Ten Eekhovelei (Coene et al., 2022).

Ten Eekhove dates from a building boom after the First World War and is one of Deurne's most densely populated neighbourhoods. Today, the Ten Eekhovelei is inhabited by low- to middle-class residents while attracting new waves of urban immigrants. Most housing units have been built by a company named “Conforta”. In the period from 1925 to 1930, the municipality issued no fewer than 1293 building permits to this company (Nooyens, 1982). With the slogan “A house for every worker”, Conforta explicitly targets the working class. To build the maximum number of houses, the company erects houses with a gable width of 3.7 metres instead of the usual 5 metres. It also experiments with row houses consisting of multiple stacked units and inhabited basement floors (Ryckewaert, 2002). The large ethnical diversity today is mostly hidden behind the uniform Conforta facades.
Looking closer reveals a great variety of ethnic shops and places of worship and the many satellite receivers on the roofs expose apparent transnational contacts. The doorbells indicate that most houses here are occupied by several families.

Ten Eekhove is enclosed between two busy traffic arteries. The whole neighbourhood is affected by noise nuisance and high concentrations of particulate pollution, largely exceeding the World Health Organisation standards (Stassijns, 2021). With plans for the reconstruction and (partial) covering of the Antwerp ring road, the city council has long wanted to address these problems. In the preliminary design, which was completed in October 2021, the Ten Eekhovelei will be transformed into a neighbourhood by a new park (De Grote Verbinding, 2022). To implement the plans, a temporary highway (bypass) will be commissioned in 2024, initiating a construction period predicted to last a decade. Because of the inconvenience of the planned works for residents of the Ten Eekhovelei (and because of the desire to create a lively edge for the park), the city of Antwerp offered to buy the properties soon to be adjacent to the construction. The city's offer is valid until 2024 (Stassijns, 2021). To date, 54 out of 183 units were sold (Stad Antwerpen, 2023b).

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei model exhibition [Photo]. Made by author

Figure 3: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei model exhibition [Photo]. Made by author

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei garden [Photo]. Made by author.

Figure 4: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei garden [Photo]. Made by author.


Research started in early 2022 with fieldwork, including site visits, photographing, sketching, walking and engaging in conversations with passers-by. The systematic actor identification (Boelens et al., 2016) led to an introduction to the neighbourhood community centre: SAAMO Dinamo. In their polyvalent space, community workshops were organized with the dual goal to involve the neighbourhood in the project and to reach a deeper understanding of social, cultural and economic systems within the neighbourhood. The workshops included design practices and drawing of plans, diagrams, and schemes about the sites of daily practices. Two “build your house in a scale model”- workshops were organised to start conversations with residents about their living conditions.

Getting to know people, and gaining their trust, afterwards led to about ten home visits and gave insights into what is going on in the neighbourhood. Unrest about future infrastructural works, doubts about whether to sell or leave their houses and worries about rising vacancies turned out to be real concerns.

These findings will be assembled in a “subjective atlas of Ten Eekhove”. The concept of a subjective atlas was developed by designer Annelys Devet in 2003 ( It consists of multiple series of bottom-up mappings of a country, region, city or neighbourhood by the inhabitants themselves. Grounded in lived experiences, they have the dual agency of enhancing place-based understandings by inhabitants and revealing unknown dimensions by policymakers and stakeholders (Subjective Editions, 2023). As such it is an effective instrument to comprehend the diversity of everyday living cultures in a place of transition, where an imminent infrastructural force, threatens its very existence. The atlas allows to cross-reference actors, networks, interviews, drawings, photographs, models, stories, etc. based on their spatial association adding an indispensable layer of knowledge that explores undercurrent patterns of living. In the case of Ten Eekhove, the atlas will also be used as an instrument for design-driven participatory action research, seeking to develop culturally and ecologically resilient solutions in rapidly transforming settlements. At the same time, the design research becomes highly political as it seeks more community-based solutions as an alternative to foreseen plans that would inevitably lead to social displacement and gentrification.

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades 1 [Annotated drawing]. Made by author.

Figure 5: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades 1 [Annotated drawing]. Made by author.

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades 2 [Annotated drawing]. Made by author.

Figure 6: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades 2 [Annotated drawing]. Made by author.

De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades 3 [Annotated drawing]. Made by author.

Figure 7: De Feyter, N. (2022). Ten Eekhovelei rear facades 3 [Annotated drawing]. Made by author.

The current state of the research

Ongoing research is slowly revealing patterns that testify to the richness of spatial practices and their spatial translations present in the Ten Eekhovelei. The compactness of the houses, initially primarily seen as problematic, proves to be equipped with a remarkable circulation scheme, that renders the interior of the houses a flexibility that often leaves space for an additional room to practice a hobby or craft, study or accommodate guests. In addition, it was found that the inhabited basement floors provide (temporary) shelter for people who do not find alternatives on the regular rental market and that the high energy costs spontaneously give rise to unconventional cohousing forms.

In contrast with the apparent first impression of a closed rear side, the discussions and redesigning practices of plans and schemes revealed that many houses do have an active connection with the existing green buffer zone of the highway via their gardens, visible as small doors and paths for easy bike access, farmlands for small home-based agriculture, tanks for rainwater collection, etc. The value and even necessity of the small gardens of the Conforta houses are highlighted. They are seen as a huge added value, commonly used for outdoor cooking, playing, eating, gardening, growing crops or fishkeeping.

Besides the prevalence of outdated housing patrimony and poverty, these aspects of living in Ten Eekhove are advantages that convince residents not to sell and wait out the uncertain future. A second argument that discourages selling is that the new housing developments of the city of Antwerp, for example on “’t Eilandje” or the previous slaughterhouse site, do not live up to expectations. These flats are often very small and offer no extra multi-use space or garden.

Next steps

The research on Ten Eekhove, next to other cases that are part of the PhD, will be continued with more targeted design workshops in cooperation with the staff of the community centre, the residents of Ten Eekhovelei, the city and AG Vespa (the autonomous municipal company for real estate and urban projects in Antwerp), to further map the diversity of spatial practices and how they change our way of conceiving urban neighbourhoods. Completing the atlas ought to encourage the dialogue about the spatial practices of our superdiverse day-to-day realities and openly question the dominant ways of representing territories, opening up political scopes and contributing to a more pluralistic and sensitive territorial identification (Subjective Editions, 2023).


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