Exposing a European Gem
Luxembourg is a context of extremes. If one were to use the adjective ‘extreme’ in relation to the country’s actual raison d’être, it could well be completed by a myriad of divergent characteristics, such as closed, polite, moneyed, technocratic, multinational, coded, car-crazy, neutral, unequal, traditionalist, European, Catholic, confidential, privatized, unsustainable, sovereign, bucolic, permissive … Impossible to scratch the surface.
This Grand Duchy is not a free country, however, as it increasingly suffers from subcutaneous strangleholds exerted by its technopolitical management and matching control urge. Though in dire need of a strong social imagination, ecological focus and spatial reform, Luxembourg seems to willingly adhere to the gospel of risk-free optimum. At any cost. With the National Department of Business-As-Usual imperturbably calling the shots.
Spare the rod and spoil the child. Hence, the current volume is a deliberately non-Luxembourg endeavour, one that presents an open, perhaps even unhinged research through both spatial design and written exploration. RED LUXEMBOURG offers an interlocking series of proactive hints, unsolicited problematizations, buoyant architectural projections and essayistic meditations. The cardinal question rooted in RED LUXEMBOURG is how to leapfrog from an ingrained take-make-waste economy towards unsuspected spheres of spatial and ecological equitability.
To make things palpable, this probing is based on a specific European cross-border territory: the post-industrial Terres Rouges crassier. Sandwiched between the wealthy south of Luxembourg and the depleted north-east of France, this former slag heap holds a plethora of (ambiguous) sprouts for re-understanding essential equilibria. The mapped-out future of the Terres Rouges crassier involves amenably fulfilling top-level real-estate ambitions and ditto commercial profits. In the same way, important parts of Europe are currently being padded as ex novo éco-quartiers, celebrating life’s manageability, regardless of who will live there or how.
If we zoom in on the 1778 Ferraris map, a distinct detail stands out. The location of the present Terres Rouges crassier is marked as ‘Contesté’. An intrinsic source of (European) irreconcilability? A divisor of sorts? Or can the division in this case be marked as the promise of a productive conflict? Some 250 years later, the Terres Rouges crassier is still governed in a dual manner, with the Franco-Luxembourg border splitting this so-called transboundary site impeccably into two segments. The additional fact that the lion’s share of the territory is owned by ArcelorMittal does not make things less charged. Considering this public-private ménage à trois, with each party adhering to a profoundly different worldview, the communal future of the crassier is most likely highly uncertain.
Unified Europe or not, the private market openly exploits the public authorities, the same way one country feeds off the other. For decades Luxembourg has attracted an important influx of French transfrontaliers to incrementally boost its economy. As a result, more than two hundred thousand French, German and Belgian nationals pay their taxes in Luxembourg (not in their countries of residence). The situation is similar in, for instance, Brussels, a capital city that has persistently failed to collect the taxes it is entitled to for more than three hundred and fifty thousand daily commuters from beyond its city limits. In the case of Luxembourg and its ‘hinterland’, the muchneeded redistribution lens is irrefutably a fiscal one. However, it should not be neglected that a spatial dimension is equally at play. For instance, the daily transfrontalier movements exacerbate the already clogged (car-oriented) mobility network. Not to mention the daft loss of time by commuting between the workspace and the affordable home base. The latter being by default in the neighbouring countries, not in Luxembourg, even for many Luxembourg citizens, by now unable to keep up with the Heimat’s soaring real-estate market (a Luxembourg dwelling costs on average one million euro). It is indisputable that a new precariat has come into existence.
Hence, how to equip European border areas like the Terres Rouges crassier so that realms of spatial and social equitability become conceivable? Can the crassier become a pilot project where people could dwell — both low- and high-skilled people working so-called bullshit jobs that sustain the Luxembourg service economy? Where, next to their anonymous work for cleaning services, security companies, big bank kitchens, white van delivery services and so forth, high-quality common home space is as discretionary as for the blessed and happy few. Moreover, this type of hands-on work does not allow for the currently hyped work-at-home arrangements (and their neo-architectural telework typologies). Simply put, quality accommodation in the vicinity of the workplace is greatly needed. Against all odds, RED LUXEMBOURG attempts to spatialize such ‘affordability’ — beyond the outpaced and passive label of social housing. A testing ground that fosters communities (not real-estate consumers) and is underpinned by ecological seriousness.
The crassier — as a potential European pars pro toto — puts an additional issue on the table, that of a fundamental ecological liability and intelligence. Sites like the Terres Rouges crassier have been subject to a chronic series of brutal non-ecological realities. A picture of the adjacent Lentille Terres Rouges taken by Bernd and Hilla Becher in 1979 shows a concurrent landscape of heavy industry, dwelling (including adjoining allotment gardens) and scant natural residue. In less than half a century, this abstracting landscape of ‘contesting’ objectives has been turned from a part grassland, part forested area into a monumental slag heap, while in the past decade the debris tumulus has been fully recycled, extracting its last remaining resources through intensive excavation. A ten-metre-deep crater of sixty hectares is the current resultant, an as-found ground zero. In a business-as-usual context, this crater will be padded — in the coming decades — with financialized ‘green’ real estate. Luxembourg’s newest hotspot. This, however, seems an untenable practice, passing by the cash register once too often in too little a time. How to cap future real estate, allowing for slow(er) development? How to conceptualize recovery time?
While RED LUXEMBOURG does not wish to offer full-fledged solutions, neither in text nor spatial design, it does aim to venture into effective alternatives for communal and affordable ecological living. Because when it comes down to it, how many compelling and contemporary examples of refreshing living concepts does one know? As a base, a renewed belief in public investments and citizen-oriented ‘caretakership’ is indiscriminately a crucial tenet to pursue. In the case of the Terres Rouges crassier, this could, for a start, enable the few natural leftovers to steadily rewild and recompose themselves. This shall take many decades. RED LUXEMBOURG is equally a practice in redlining unbridled land use and fostering cooperative long-term use (instead of privatized ownership). Strategies that can neutralize unnecessary commercial stress or fetish. Though not a final stepping stone, nevertheless a key cultural issue is how to use or inhabit such ‘sluggish’ territory. What is habitat anyway, and how are we to take care of it? How can the future inhabitants become apt caretakers? What is a nourishing landscape in such a détournement? And what kind of architectures shall arise and what kind can be typologically recycled? Instead of considering housing as something central and privileged, the act of dwelling could take on a more liminal position, accompanying and gently steering ecologies. The land can perfectly suggest its proper bearing capacity in relation to the future number of inhabitants, uses or economic sourcing. As it will clearly indicate how it should be taken care of.
The future inhabitants of the crassier (or other analogous challenging European territories) have already assembled, unconsciously, their unsolicited precariousness being the ultimate letters patent for better living. In the end, such political wagers take but a handful of visionaries. In this case, one Luxembourg Minister, one French Député, perhaps one ArcelorMittal Executive, and one European Baumeister. Chiche!
Editors: Peter Swinnen, David Peleman, Nathan Heindrichs, Beatriz Van Houtte Alonso
Contributors: Tom Becker, Stijn Bollaert, Pascal De Decker, Matthew Gandy, Nathan Heindrichs, Markus Hesse, Sandra Jasper, Germain Meulemans, Jan Minne, David Peleman, Something Fantastic, Peter Swinnen, Eric Swyngedouw, Beatriz Van Houtte Alonso
Design: Something Fantastic
Publisher: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König
ISBN: 978 3 7533 0135 8
Edition: 1000 copies