Torhout— experiential and identity study
In the near future, the City of Torhout wants to invest in the renewal and enhancement of its city centre. By requesting an 'experiential and identity study' the city is approaching this urban renewal with the aim of not only achieving a leap in spatial, but also in social quality.
Architecture Workroom, in association with the photographer Marie-Françoise Plissart, is mapping out the unique character and future challenges facing the City of Torhout.
The aim of this experiential study is to identify the experience and experiential awareness of the residents of Torhout and where the main challenges lie from the perspective of the city’s inhabitants and users. Special attention will be devoted to the use and appropriation of the public space by diverse groups. Building on the insights of this study, we will jointly formulate the project definition for the Open Call of the Flemish Government Architect's Team (Open Oproep van het Team Vlaams Bouwmeester) for a city centre renewal project. This experiential study constitutes the first step in activating local knowledge, insights and ideas. The participation of local actors will also be key in the subsequent phase. This means that in addition to spatial design, specific attention will also be demanded for a methodical approach, in which knowledge exchange and the exploration of collaborations between local parties is paramount. This methodical approach focuses on the implementation of a city centre renewal project in the long term (in phases and offering flexibility), as well as on specific actions in the relatively short term, which deliver a visible result.
Torhout is a small city located in the middle of West Flanders, surrounded by forests, arable land and meadows, but it also offers easy access and connections to the surrounding central cities of Bruges, Roeselare and Ostend. These qualities provide an enduring appeal. The population of Torhout has continued to steadily grow in recent decades: from 13,500 inhabitants in the 1960s to approximately 20,300 inhabitants today. In recent years, diverse initiatives have been launched related to spatial projects on different levels of scale in Torhout and the surrounding area. These range from a land development plan to make the rural environment of Groenhove and Vrijgeweid more attractive for residents and recreationists, to plans to develop residential expansion areas, or the construction of cycle highways to surrounding municipalities. In the city centre there are also a number of potentially interesting development sites and valuable public properties (such as the former city hall), which currently remain underutilised or unused. There is a need for a clear vision for the future, so that these scattered initiatives and diverse opportunities can be better aligned and thus also have an improved chance of success. At the same time it is important that this future vision also looks forward and takes account of the demographic, economic and ecological challenges that Torhout - as part of a much larger urbanising landscape - will face in the longer term. Themes such as an aging population, the relationship between the city and the landscape, sustainable mobility and strengthening the local economy are key in this respect. In this way the role, position and significance of the City of Torhout can also be redefined within the wider environment.
In the experiential and identity study, we will use observations and discussions with residents, users, entrepreneurs, city officials, and representatives of associations and organisations, to map out today's focal points and Torhout’s characteristic and unique elements. A number of workshops will also be organised in which the participants will be challenged to reflect on the desired future development of Torhout via well-defined themes.