Naar projecten overzicht

up — Igor Sokolov


Life Garden. The Case of Antwerp


This graduation project is an attempt to rediscover a place for meeting Nature in the center of a modern city.

Man seeks nature. There are places created for such an encounter in the city: a public garden, a botanical garden, a zoological garden. Nevertheless, life has always been subjugated within the confines of these gardens, be it a perfectly mowed grass, an invasive labelled tree species or a caged animal. Life Garden is a concept of a different kind. Life Garden is the area in the city where plant life and living organisms, liberated from direct human pressure, can be found in their natural condition. This place offers diverse opportunities for the living world appreciation by means of recreation, cultivation and contemplation.


Zoological gardens locked in the city center can be found in different places across the globe. Besides displaying a collection of animals to the public, commonly they carry some additional features, like the one in the city of Antwerp in Belgium. It functions partly as a city park, which offers recreation and green space to its visitors. On the other hand, a wide range of labelled plants represented across the area has to a certain extent resemblance to botanical gardens. However, continuous fences and high walls surrounding 9 ha of downtown terrain make the site visit a privilege that needs to be paid. What from the distance looked as wilderness turns out to be a skillful imitation. Inside it is ‘colored green’ with invasive vegetation and masterly replicas. The collection of animals is observed in unnatural conditions scarce in what genuine habitats can offer.

What does this piece of land truly mean to the city? Is there an alternative to the current Hortus Conclusus master plan? This project is an attempt to explore a different way of dealing with Antwerp’s hidden treasure and rediscover the experience of it.


Year 2020. Envisioning the increasing pressure of animal activists, stricter regulations and changing ethics, Antwerp Zoo attempts to draw a long-running transformation plan. It is clear to everyone that within the constraints of the city it will be merely impossible to address the issue of animals’ welfare in the near future. There are two options awaiting in the long run: relocate to the outskirts or opt for some non-standard approach. The zoo officials provisionally choose for the latter. Looking for a solution, Antwerp Zoo becomes the first one to integrate new means of interaction with wildlife in the city, relying on the high-end technology. As a result, real animals are about to leave. Cages will be soon pulled down. What is coming next? What is the future of this remarkable area in the city center without its original inhabitants? What will happen to its exceptional landscapes and magnificent historical pavilions?


- Vision -

The most demanding to captivity conditions animals in this zoo are found in its core. They are elephants, giraffes, hippos, penguins, marabou storks, apes and other exotic large animals and birds. This is the prime area best suited to further transformation into Life Garden after animals leave for a better destiny. Antwerp Zoo continues to function. Yet, the format is different. Fences are eliminated. There is no one single entrance anymore. The zoo turns a permeable shell composed of a number of separate cells. It serves a buffer zone in between Life Garden and the city. Transformation occurs in phases. Zones (parts of the future Life Garden) are converted one after another.

- Phase 1. Okapi pavilion. -

The superimposed zoo has always cut this vibrant part of the city from the eastern side with a more residential character. Most recent redevelopment activities have already opened zoo’s north-eastern corner to the public. After this phase, a formerly blank area to the east of Antwerp Central station will be rediscovered for the city. Even passengers awaiting for the train or tourists who have little time dare to leave the station now to explore what the immediate surroundings offer. It is because the sequence of public spaces stretching all the way from the river Scheldt does not terminate at Koningin Astridplein anymore. The traditional route enters the zoo shell now, continues along the path in between nature and zoo edifices, ending at a new public area, which connects to the residential part on the east. On the way to it, a beautiful butterfly tropical house, Latteria and various new functions offer a chance to enjoy the moment overlooking the chunk of thriving vegetation. The new public area served by the tram represents a terraced urban landscape, descending towards the Life Garden. Where does this bridge lead to anyway? One can stop here or be seduced to enter. In case of the latter, the journey is about to start.


We tend to notice primarily things prescribed by our egocentric interest. Yet all kinds of other facets of the surrounding world may disappear from our sight. The difference starts from the moment when you step on a permeable catwalk. Drifting away from the daily routine, you begin to recognize that other forms of living are humming with activity. As the route unfolds, it is no surprise to be seduced to enter one of the doorways. Each of them invites to have a special moment of thoughtful observation and contemplation. This moment of solitude might help elevate one’s mind to higher levels of awareness. Yet the journey is only halfway. One is able to return to the city or continue with a grounded descent into robust darkness, from where light, sounds and smells tempt further into the unknown. It can take a while in order to begin to realize how little we know about nature and ourselves. The above-ground part turns to be a beer garden with a terraced landscape for hops cultivation next to it. All stages of the process are made visible and compose an extraordinary sequence of spaces leading to the taste room on top. It is time to finally enjoy a glass of crafted beer with a stunning view over the natural surroundings while being just 200 meters away from the vibrant city center.

Online op
30 juni

Tijdens de opening van graduation show NEXT UP 2016 wordt het digitale platform van de Fontys Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Beeldend gelanceerd.