Mission: Who are we? What do we stand for?

Architecture Workroom Brussels is a cultural innovation house for the transformation of the social and physical living environment. The organisation's mission is to enable the transition to a solidarity-based, sustainable and circular urban landscape by means of design and architecture. It supports the development of new projects, coalitions and practices that provide solutions to tomorrow's important societal challenges, related to themes such as food, water, energy, mobility, housing and community. 

The innovation house uses design and culture as levers to achieve its mission. Spatial and design research play a major role in exploring and imagining possible futures. But AWB goes further than simply placing the options on the agenda. The cultural innovation platform plays a connecting role with regard to new coalitions, projects and practices, resulting in effective transformation in the living environment. 

To this end, AWB brings both innovators and the current dominant players together in a new practice environment. AWB provides the context and the tools for designers, local organisations, supralocal authorities and knowledge institutions to devise concrete, conceivable and achievable answers to the pertinent questions of our time. 

The innovation platform focuses on the future of the European built and open space in general, and of the urbanised, central European Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta in particular. Brussels, small cosmopolitan city and European capital, serves as the ideal international context as well as an exemplary laboratory for the innovation house’s mission. 

Vision: What do we believe in?                     

·     Architecture as a practice of practices

The term 'Architecture' at AWB stands for the collective design of the transition of our living environment: from dissecting socio-spatial challenges to providing a framework for ateliers, and from the scale of the building to that of the urban landscape. The term AWB uses to position this development within the discipline is (spatial) transformation, which is a central component of its specific discipline, but also invites other actors. AWB does not confine the current and future role and contribution of architecture to a single type of practice. There is a cascade of architects who design to build and excel at it (examples include Robbrecht and Daem, De Smet Vermeulen, jo taillieu architecten, BEEL architecten, XDGA, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, architecten jan de vylder inge vinck, V+ and many others), practices that adopt an exploratory approach (such as 1010au, 51N4E, Bovenbouw), practices that experiment with new techniques and roles (like Rotor, BC materials), practices that develop socio-spatial co-creation strategies together with citizens (such as Endeavour), architects who jointly determine the agenda (RE-ST and not building), architect-activists (such as Filter-Café-Filtré, Pool is Cool), architect-scenographers (Gijs Van Vaerenbergh), and so on. AWB talks of a Practice of Practices and positions these different roles not opposing one another, but in a coherent sequence. AWB aims to provide a platform for practice development for all these different types of practices.


·     Culture to promote cultural change

Culture has a threefold meaning in AWB's approach: it is a vehicle for innovation (driving), provides free space (context) and allows different audiences to be involved (connecting). In the Davos Declaration "Towards a high-quality Baukultur for Europe" (2018), the European Ministers of Culture declare that "culture should be placed at the centre of development policies" and that there is "an urgent need for a holistic, culture-based approach to the built-up environment" in favour of social, environmental and economic goals. There is a need for Third Spaces (community or in-between spaces) where the creative context is produced to collectively formulate breakthroughs that are not possible in traditional project or policy environments. Cross-sectoral environments of this kind are necessary in order to harness our society's innovation and entrepreneurial potential. Culture is also positioned in this way by the European Commission in, among others, “The role of public policies in developing entrepreneurial and innovation potential of the cultural and creative sectors” (2018). The Landscape Sketch of the Arts (2019) confirms that architecture culture organisations "act as a kind of 'outboard motor' to provide direction to the practice of architecture, as already happens through The Missing Link, a collaboration between AWB and the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, the Kempenlab of AR-TUR or the BWMSTR Labels of the Flemish Government Architect and VAi".


·     System change in specific places

The practice of architecture can contribute to the approach for tackling major social challenges. Design integrates abstract, systemic challenges and links them to local initiatives in specific places. The energy transition is made tangible when it comes to renovating an entire neighbourhood and making it future-proof. The demand for sustainable, locally produced food is about developing food landscapes in fertile, well-connected locations. And so on. Bringing systemic objectives back to tangible future places such as energy districts, food landscapes, climate streets, community engines or buffer basins enable actors (1) to meaningfully relate to these objectives from their own daily living environment and (2) to deal with social, ecosystemic and economic challenges in an integrative manner. 


·     Social coalitions and projects

The social relevance of the spatial design practice lies in breaking out of its own sector. The greatest need for innovation does not lie in specialisation, but in connecting different actors and disciplines. The Davos Declaration (2018) emphasises that "a quality Baukultur can only emerge in the context of interdisciplinary dialogue and through multilayered and cross-sectoral cooperation between policy-makers, competent authorities and specialists in the field. As it encompasses creative, functional and social aspects, all relevant disciplines and practitioners must participate on an equal footing." Therefore, practice innovation must focus on cooperating with other disciplines - with economists, sociologists, energy experts, food producers, citizen movements and policy-makers. Practice-based environments are needed where work can be carried out in partnership with social parties.


·     Implementation by designing 'what' and 'how' together

We have enough opinions and intentions. The greatest creative challenge is the collective implementation of what we are advocating. Instead of abstractly planning from everyone's own perspective, we must turn it around and start by taking action. This is not a purely technical issue, it is a cultural challenge. It requires new partnerships and coordination between various actors. AWB uses innovative power and space to design this move to action. Or in other words, tackling the 'what' and the 'how' simultaneously. Visualising a brighter future will not suffice if it is not based on the interplay of actors and resources that must achieve it. This can only be done through learning-by-doing: by also designing from the 'how', we really get to see 'what' we can effectively achieve and 'with whom'.