Dynamic + Rigid

Coastal Urban System Flanders

The Flemish coast line will be facing some major challenges linked to climate change, the environment, the economy and societal developments. Combined with urgent issues such as coastal defence projects, demographic developments and the quest for a circular economy, reconversion of this coastal urban system will be inevitable.


Throughout the ages wind and water have shaped the Flemish coast continuously. The current coast line has been pinned down by rigid urban developments, even though this means that the dynamics of the sea will have an even greater impact on the urban system. In order to develop a contemporary urban system that will benefit both human and natural development, an exploration of a future-proof, embedded and diverse mix of urban, economic and ecologic functions is needed.

Reconversions that make sense

Demographic developments, impacts of climate change and the transition to a circular economy and a sustainable energy supply will affect the coastal zone in the years to come. This research develops and shows several ways in which reconversion can provide an answer to all these changes.

The term coastal urban system is consistently used throughout this project. It implies the importance and impact of the underlying, supporting landscape systems for the built environment of coastal Flanders. This research sketches how major evolutions might affect the urban system and how they might contribute to the reconversion of the physical, ecological, economic and touristic systems of the coast.

Sensible reconversions are based on the current performance of the coastal urban system


An analysis of current and forthcoming developments, discussions with the advisory committee and views of local experts contributed to the formulation of a set of challenges that apply to the entire coastal zone. Those challenges form the motive for the reconversions of the built environment.

Research through design

Multiple sites were selected by a team of experts to represent the local impacts of the formulated challenges and for further exploration. In several three-day design charrettes local stakeholder were involved to elaborate upon the cases and think about the actors, instruments and coalitions that might support the reconversions.


Six challenges

Recurring subjects from the charrettes were bundled in six themes, these represent the driving forces of a thriving city. The six challenges for the coast are focussed on this forces, but they are also connected through overlapping themes such as societal diversity and economy.

  • Resilient systems: the natural systems as starting point for adaptation
  • Vigorous economy: the demand for a broader economic carrier
  • Healthy living: productive open space as incentive for urban development
  • Social-culturally connected: a diverse coast for everyone
  • Circular society: seasonal dynamics and spatial interweaving as an economic opportunity
  • Energy transition: the harbours as departure point for economic reconversion along the whole coast

Principles tested

Five urban conditions have been elaborated upon in the light of the coastal challenges: the coast line, historic centres, lots, coastal harbours and urban fringes. All five conditions combine multiple challenges, for the challenges often overlap. The spatial principles derived from the design charrettes have been applied in the design elaborations.

Adapt to local identities

Event though the spatial principles are realistic and accurate representations of the options available for reconversion, they should rather be considered as approaches. In that way, every actual reconversion can tackle location specific threats and opportunities and benefit from the social, economic and historic identities present.