Every year students in the field of landscape architecture at the University College Ghent are involved in the ongoing research activities on rural estates. In cases where challenging issues emerge, students potentially offer fresh and new perspectives on the case study at hand. Through the involvement of the research team, a wealth of information on rural estates is accessible for the students. In specific design studios guided tours to other rural estates or lectures by specialists are organized. In 2018 three rural estates served as a design case study for students in the field of landscape architecture.
An example of student work
One of these case studies, was the Heers estate (Belgium). After many decades of abandonment and decay, the Heers estate (Belgium) is slowly but surely finding a new breath of air through the involvement of the non-profit association ‘Heerlijk(heid) Heers’. With the support of countless volunteers, parts of the estate are being managed again, new cultural activities are being developed, and public support is increasing (see: www.kasteelvanheers.be). It is, however, unclear what will happen on the long run with this place. As a unique piece of architectural heritage with 1000 years of history attached to it, there is no doubt that every attempt should be made to safeguard the remains of this site for the future.
What to do with the surroundings of the historic buildings? Little traces are left of the historic park. Ornamental plant species are the first to disappear after periods of neglect. Neither are there any detailed accounts left of the design of the historic parklands. A reconstruction of a historical reality will, therefore, always be our own interpretation of the past. The cultural context in which these parklands were made, has also changed considerably. In order to meet with today’s challenges, a new balance needs to be found with the historical values of the place and its social, economic and ecological importance in the presence.
A number of students in landscape architecture took up the challenge to explore different scenarios on how the estate might be developed into the future. Can features from the past be reinvented in new ways? How are the narratives from the past useful for the future? Or does the state of ‘charming neglect’ (not everywhere so charming!) offer a unique selling point to attract a broader public? Of all the concepts that were created by the students, the concepts by the group Suzan De Grande and Sonja De Weert was the most promising, as well as the witty and insightful concept by Wout Fieu and Kevin Lantsoght.
Scenographic image by Wout Fieu and Kevin Lantsoght – an idea for a nocturnal display at the estate, as a means to revive the stories from the past.