The design for a new pedestrian bridge project from Counterspace will shed light on the influence of Congolese horticulturalist Paul Panda Farnana as part of a unique competition aimed at bolstering civic pride for various migrant communities residing in the city of Vilvoorde, Belgium.
The project will evoke the work of Farnana while likewise paying homage to the many laborers that were brought to the country from the Congo, where they found support locally from the Union Congolaise he formed after drawing inspiration in the work of W.E.B DuBois and other Pan-Africanist figures.
The design of the bridge itself is created by repeating boat-like forms which take as their reference point the fleets of canoes used as both transportation and gathering spaces for cultures endemic to the Congo River. Each form also doubles as a seed bed whose individual contents, all taken from species used in Farnana’s research, will be spread with the aid of wind and pedestrian users in order to physically manifest the scientific legacy of the overlooked figure.
Several other additional seed-bearing boats will be placed along the riverbank and surrounding spaces in order to activate the industrial zone near the site. Symbolically, each boat is named for a laborer that was discovered to be on the historic register in the course of the firm’s research. Counterspace will be helped in its delivery of the project with expertise from engineering specialists at AKT II.
Counterspace’s founder Sumayya Vally says: “When we were approached to work on the bridge and subsequently found the story of Farnana through our research, I was interested in the idea of this as an active monument and a space for healing and remembering. This is translated into the story of the project, its form, and embodying Farnana’s research. It is also embodied ecologically in how the scheme expands beyond the bridge to the broader ecosystem; in the form of smaller ‘boats’ that will pollinate the entire river bank. Embedded in this project response is an ethos that we hold true in our practice — every project brief, even the most simple.”
"It is my hope that this project helps to embody and raise awareness on the story of Farnana, and that it reminds us as architects that we have to listen deeply to the grounds of the contexts we work in," she added finally. "There is always architecture waiting to happen in places that are overlooked."
Counterspace says they expect construction to begin in April of 2024, with a public opening scheduled in time for December of the next year.
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