AGORA – Alzette Quarter: a participatory architectural and urban planning competition!
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Alzette Quarter: a participatory architectural and urban planning competition!

Meeting with Jörg Faltin from the architectural competition moderators FALTIN+SATTLER of Düsseldorf.
In order to design the foundations of the future Alzette Quarter, teams of architects, urban planners and landscape architects attended an intensive week-long design workshop watched by citizens who were invited to discuss their dreams for this territory at the same time. Interview with Jörg Faltin, the great orchestrator of this process.

The ways of thinking about urban programming have changed considerably in recent years. To design the foundations of the future Alzette Quarter, AGORA called for an inclusive approach. The competing teams were thus invited to attend a week-long intensive design workshop watched by citizens who were invited to offer their vision for this territory. German urban planner Jörg Faltin, a specialist in this kind of participatory urban planning, tells us more.

Working with AGORA for many years, the FALTIN+SATTLER practice is particularly in demand for the organisation of classic architectural competitions. Planning, competition implementation, jury composition, analysis and proposal synthesis are tasks for which AGORA has turned to the recognised expertise of the Düsseldorf practice. But today, beyond this traditional approach, the architectural and urban planning competition is changing. The approach now includes citizens and civil society actors.

“In this kind of process, teams of architects and urban planners are in a constant state of flux,” explains Jörg Faltin. “Workshops and citizen forums take place alongside, in parallel – experts can listen to them, be inspired by them, be part of the continuations, be immersed in them. Between the citizens' forums and the working sessions, there is a kind of organic fertilisation, or spontaneous interrelation, with variable geometry.”

On the road towards Alzette

In order to develop a Global Urban Planning and Development Guide for the future Alzette Quarter, on the territory of the former steelworks in Esch-Schifflange, AGORA thus asked FALTIN+SATTLER to orchestrate a week-long participatory design workshop, directly on the site. Four teams of planners stayed on site and worked almost continuously. At the same time, groups of citizens invited to give their ideas attended different workshops, forums or visits. In the middle of the week, the teams gave a progress report to all the attendees and collected the first observations. A final presentation of the enhanced projects was then organised at the end of the week. The jury met the next day to deliberate.

“Alzette is almost a science fiction setting," recalls Jörg Faltin. It was fascinating to be on site for a whole week. In our approach, it was important to work on the very places of the future urban development, to capture the atmosphere and the textures and to immerse yourself in the history, to see the landscape and reliefs with your own eyes ”

Appreciating the “experts in daily life”

Who better to imagine the future of the territory than those who live in its vicinity, or those who were part of its recent industrial history, Using the ideas of these “experts in daily life", AGORA and FALTIN+SATTLER set up a series of visits for them led by former steelworkers, as well as a series of presentation forums addressing different urban planning issues, followed by citizens' workshops where they were able to present their ideas and express their feelings, which inspired the design teams.

“Initially we were interested in their perception of the place and its history,” explains Jörg Faltin. “We invited them to express their personal relationship with the places. Then came the ideas to transform and develop the territory. In Alzette, it was discovered that the place was perceived as a forbidden city since the works were closed. It is a place that attracts as much curiosity as a certain pain about the past. This is why it is all the more important to involve the citizen in the redevelopment process.”

Other concerns, such as “respect for nature and waterways”, emerged. The citizens expressed their desire for renaturation, green spaces, or the need for a fast tram or cycle paths. “The issue of green transport was central to the citizens’ conversations,” confirms Faltin.

Teams on the alert

As well as setting up their drawing boards and computers in improvised offices and working in teams in a hectic atmosphere, the teams of planners took advantage of their presence on site to explore the areas bordering the former steelworks. They wanted to better understand how the future Alzette Quarter fitted into its vast urban whole and into a network of green spaces and public transport. A visit to the new train station in Schifflange was in particular on the agenda, as well as a visit to the Op Huddelen area, with its houses built in an open green area.

“In addition to these official visits, the teams were able to explore the territory by bike at any time to get a feel for the area," adds Jörg Faltin. This enabled them to draw on the morphology of the landscape as they actually experienced it.”

Back in the design studio, they worked almost day and night with a strong sense of urgency and intensity, outside the usual office routine. "These are all necessary conditions for productivity and a competitive spirit," comments the co-director of FALTIN+SATTLER. "Also, we like it that citizens, gathered in the same place as the expert teams, can look over their shoulders, see them draw and see them discuss. This fosters a creative and concrete mindset, a catalyst for all.”

At the end of the journey, the teams presented their final proposals to an enthusiastic audience. The choice of the 26-member jury and numerous advisers, the project of team 1 composed of the architectural and urban planning practices COBE (Copenhagen / DK) and URBAN AGENCY (Copenhagen / DK), associated with LUXPLAN S.A. (Luxembourg / LU) and URBAN CREATORS (Copenhagen / DK), was greeted with great applause.

Under the specifications, the winning team was given the task of optimising and refining the concept in order to deliver a Concerted Global Guide Plan that perfectly meets the expectations of the initiators and the public.

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