Antwerp's city architect on his vision: “A housing policy that opts for a lively residential city”

Christian Rapp is Antwerp’s city architect. He was strongly influenced by his architectural studies in Berlin, which was reinventing itself following the German reunion. He wants to avoid an ‘Amsterdam and London scenario’ with towering housing prices in Antwerp. Rapp is known as a proponent of dosed high-rise development as part of a sustainable urban development policy, but the leitmotif of his vision for Antwerp are the themes ‘lively residential city’, ‘innovative networking city’ and ‘robust landscape’.

CHRISTIAN RAPP: “The property market is currently exploding in many large cities,” says Rapp. “The price of land alone has shot up by 14 percent in Amsterdam this last year. Growth scenarios for Antwerp vary, but we are anticipating moderate growth: 30,000 further citizens by 2035.
We want to safeguard Antwerp against an overly explosive population growth and corresponding prices. That’s why we must intervene now when it comes to urban development: where do we want to facilitate residential projects, what types of buildings do we want and how can we manage growth? These are the most critical issues for the spatial structure plan that we’ll be rolling out during the next legislature.”

What do you feel are the ingredients of a successful city on a human scale?
CHRISTIAN RAPP: “One pillar is the lively residential city: facilitating mixed living, working and shopping. We need to stop the urban flight. The contribution of a city architect and sustainability policy is that a broader reflection of society can find its home here. A real housing policy for diverse target groups is needed for our market and social housing. According to my vision a liveable city is where we can direct the housing market by creating an affordable quality offer.
I like referencing Richard Florida’s new book ‘The Urban Crisis’ – the sequel to ‘The Rise of The Creative Class’, in which he predicts aflourishing future for cities thanks to the post-industrial creative class. Bottomline; cities are no longer accessible to their original residents. Antwerp runs the risk of ending up in such a situation, simply because the city has so many assets and qualities.”

Why did you choose to put the Left Bank first on the agenda?
CHRISTIAN RAPP “My policy document focuses on three different districts: the city centre, the area around the ring road and the 20th century belt, including the Left Bank district. The Left Bank of the Scheldt has been a blind spot to local government for too long. Last year I created an open competition for ideas on compaction scenarios. That put the Left Bank district on the map. Although this is nothing new: in 1930 there was the famous design competition where for example Le Corbusier made a plan for 120,000 new residents in this district. These designs were never realised and today just 12,000 people live on our Left Bank. If the city really must grow, then the ‘leap’ across the Scheldt becomes essential, but there has to be a vision for it.”

From 13 to 16 March 2018, the City of Antwerp, in partnership with the City of Ghent and several private real estate companies, will participated in the international MIPIM real estate exhibition in Cannes.