Since May 1, 2021, Séréna Vanbutsele has been appointed as Head of the Institute of Architecture: Heritage, Construction and Users (TRANSFORM) at the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR). She is involved in the teaching of the Joint Master of Arts in Architecture (JMA) and explains how her goal consists in anchoring her research subject - under-planned nature spaces facing the challenges of qualitative densification – on both, urban and rural Fribourg territory.
What are your thoughts on the Smart Living Lab, which brings together the EPFL, HEIA-FR and UNIFR in an interdisciplinary approach?
It is a stimulating place due to the contrasts it offers, where the international runs alongside with the local; the high-tech with the low-tech; the alternative with the conventional; the fundamental research with the applied research; the technical aspects with the cultural ones; a place where researchers from all over the world develop leading-edge knowledge. It is a concentrate of innovations that sometimes combines the everyday search of new ways of living, working, producing, consuming, and moving around.
What are the challenges lying ahead for the TRANSFORM Institute you lead since May 1, 2021?
The Institute has around 30 employees and brings together many skills that will contribute to question in one way or another spatial transformations of the built and non-built environment, from the territory planning phase to the construction phase, its use and transformation. By bringing together these valuable skills and these broad areas of expertise, TRANSFORM is well positioned to initiate and conduct projects to nurture the Smart Living Lab. The Institute is a sort of catalyst of interdisciplinary practices that contribute to the definition of a future that provides answers to issues linked to the environment, climate change, search of new ways of living, and a more circular economy.
"The Institute is a sort of catalyst of interdisciplinary practices that contribute to the definition of a future that provides answers to issues linked to the environment"
Other important issues for the Institute, to name a few, are « working together », strengthening ties between research, teaching, and the practice of architecture and urban planning, as well as the willingness to become a competence center for renovation.
What will be your activities focused on in the upcoming months?
They will be mainly focused on taking over the management of the TRANSFORM Institute. Make contacts, start and build momentum. I am also involved in teaching the Joint Master of Arts in Architecture (JMA) at the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR), the Geneva School of Engineering, Architecture and Landscape (HEPIA), the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) as well as several ongoing research projects which are being set up at the moment. It is also about anchoring my research subject - under-planned nature spaces facing the challenges of qualitative densification – on both, urban and rural Fribourg territory.
"It is also about anchoring my research subject - under-planned nature spaces facing the challenges of qualitative densification – on both, urban and rural Fribourg territory"
Could you tell us more about your professional background?
I consider myself a hybrid professional who combines architecture, urban planning, landscaping, geography, and social sciences. I am an architect (UMons – Belgium ) and city planner (UCLouvain - Belgium), and hold a PhD in Art of construction and city planning (UCLouvain - Belgium). Before arriving at the HEIA-FR, I was assistant professor at the Geneva Environmental Governance and Territorial Development Hub/Institute (GEDT) within the Geneva School of Social Sciences and the department of geography.
I also taught theoretical courses (Planning methodology and project management) at the joint Master HES-SO-UNIGE in Territorial development (MDT) and varied workshops – like regional development workshops and the workshop entitled “Territory project – landscape project”. I was also able to participate in fellowships, at the « La Sapienza » University in Rome and at the Landscape Infrastructure Lab-OPSYS at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University in Boston. Since 2018 I take part in the steering group of the international brownfield network. This group aims to develop an interdisciplinary methodology to analyze and set up urban brownfield projects, to be able to enhance their resources (infrastructures, use, landscape, and ecological needs).
How do you see the future of the built environment and related research?
It will definitely be linked to the future of the non-built environment. If quality of buildings is an important issue, quality of the relationship between them is even more so.
"If quality of buildings is an important issue, quality of the relationship between them is even more so"
Thinking about the space between buildings, makes possible the creation and conservation of open spaces, nature, and ground space. These open spaces, sometimes defined as « empty » when compared to buildings, will be our levers to be able to address issues related to climate, urban densification and the need of public spaces, the relationship to farming, climate regulation in order to face challenges such as urban heat islands or heat waves, etc …
Could you tell us what are your interests outside architecture?
Travelling the region I live in and discovering picturesque unexpected hidden corners in contrast with the nearby city life. I also like the flatlands of my home country, with its stretches of land, its sea, its traditions and local products, and above all, its friends and family.
Séréna Vanbutsele (Professor | Head of TRANSFORM) is trained as an architect and a planner and owned a PhD from UCLouvain (Belgium). Her expertise lies at the interface between architecture, urban and landscape planning. She questions the paradigm of densification through the transformation of unplanned open spaces such as wastelands, semi-natural sites and urban fringes.