Zinneke, the social and artistic organization known for its biennial parade in Brussels, has been settling in the Masui neighbourhood, north of the city centre, since 2013. After a rather nomadic existence, they found this permanent home, which has now been renovated and restructured in close collaboration with Rotor and Ouest architecture. The team developed an ambitious workmethod of co-creation to enable a far-reaching reuse of materials and to stimulate collaboration that prioritizes care and solidarity for people and the environment.
For this project, Zinneke and Rotor set up a special open call, withno concrete design havingto be submitted, but rather a work method of co-creation. Ouest won them over with their proposal to install a ‘project room’ on the site itself. Thanks to a close connection with the building, the workshops and the reusable material at hand, a work strategy was set up in this room that enabled the involved parties to jointly design and discuss all the phases of the project.
Within the building, Zinneke has its own metalworking and woodworking workshops, which were often used during the works. This demonstrates a participation strategy that goes much further than is usual today and that seeks a well-founded exchange on all sorts of levels. Not only an exchange of knowledge and craftsmanship, but also of resources and cultures.
Walking through the building, it quickly becomes clear how participation has gradually materialized in the architecture. For example, a staircase, recovered from the razed Boudewijn building of the Flemish Government, was split in two and reintegrated in two different outdoor spaces of the site. Rotor supplied the staircase, after which the plans were adapted accordingly and Zinneke’s metal workshop placed it on site. ‘It is a telling example of how co-creation takes place. This project is not something that an architect draws and then someone builds, it’s more dynamic’, Jan Haerens of Ouest emphasizes.
Although contractors for private projects are familiar with the reuse of materials, it is not easy to apply this principle to public tenders. The attitude of the commissioneris of great importance here. The project therefore represents Zinneke’s core values: respecting people and the environment, working in a problem-solving way by engaging indialogue with each other. At the same time, the architects themselves must also be able to cope with such a participatory process. The Ouest architects call themselves ‘mongrels’ rather than ‘purists’, in the sense that they find the cross-pollination of cultures and people more interesting than what is said to be ‘pure’ or ‘right’. Stéphane Damsin continues: ‘What interests usis this kind of popular intelligence, which is not necessarily low-tech but just commonsense in fact. Not because there’s no money, but sometimes because it’s not necessary to deploy huge means when all you need isto think things through a bit better.’
The Masui neighbourhood is a district witha lot of day-to-day economic activitystill woven into the residential fabric. However, it is under pressure from gentrification as surrounding neighborhoods are upgraded. The Zinneke project builds bridges and consciously reflects on the role of each actor within the building process of tomorrow–caring and solidarity in the productive capital that Brussels can and will be.