What is Permanent?

Permanent is a practice-based research project that draws upon anti-speculative models from the commons- and cooperative economy to develop an infrastructure in Brussels for affordable artist studio’s, housing, educational and community spaces.

Permanent puts forward the Community Land Trust or CLT model. The CLT-model has already demonstrated its capacity in many different places worldwide to include a larger and more diverse group of people in the development of an urban living environment beneficial for all, but is mainly used for the development of housing. Permanent now wants to apply the model for the development of cultural, social and educational infrastructure.

The main principle of the CLT-model is its division of the ownership of land and building: the land remains collective property of the community whereas the buildings on it can be acquired individually. Without the cost of the land, the developed buildings are much more affordable. And they remain affordable in the long run: owners can re-sell their properties but not with profit. As such, the CLT-model proposes an innovative public-private partnership that effectively cancels out financial speculation.

To Permanent, this model offers the opportunity to develop cultural infrastructure as public infrastructure without having to solely rely on government funding. It offers artists and art organisations a model to co-invest and raise funds for permanently affordable spaces to produce and present their work and engage with the city, without being instrumentalized in profit-driven real estate and urban development schemes.

As artists and art organisations are often unwantedly put in competition with other groups in need for affordable space in the city, Permanent consciously opts for the development of a mixed-use infrastructure. Permanent wants to reclaim the symbolic capital of the arts to also make space for other groups and functions that risk to be pushed out of the city centres. Therefore, Permanent puts forward a mixed building programme that combines artistic workspaces with affordable homes for newcomers and large families with limited means, an educational infrastructure and community- and safe space facilities. As such, Permanent aims to install new regimes of solidarity and commoning between different users, partners and functions.

Through a bottom-up and collective approach, Permanents also includes local networks and communities in the development of the site in their neighbourhood. A part of the building programme will be determined through a participatory trajectory that allows Permanent to respond to local needs and aspirations, genuinely grounding the project. As such, Permanent aims to not only contribute to the urban life of its "quartier" in Brussels, but also propose a new grassroot development model that can inspire others, both in and outside the Belgian capital.

Grassroot trajectory

In 2021 Permanent will organize a series of workshops, a summer school and work tables that both zoom in and zoom out on the development of the envisioned mixed-use infrastructure.

Zooming in, this trajectory will focus on concrete decision-making around the building programme, partnerships and their modes of engagement as well as lay the ground work for Permanent's governance, ownership and financial model. These exercises will focus on a number of sites but puts forward the Fire Station in the Helihavenlaan in Brussels' North Quarter (Yser) as a pivotal site to explore and campaign on.

This grassroot trajectory follows a bottom-up approach that departs from the collaborative intelligence, needs and aspirations of a diverse group of partners, users, and local networks. It seeks to develop a site as a collective effort in which a multitude of voices are acknowledged, namely those voices often overlooked or deemed irrelevant. In this conversation, Permanent attempts to question and reimagine how we live, work and learn (together) under a shared roof, also from an intersectional perspective.

Parallel but not detached from this line of action we will also zoom out by developing and exchanging knowledge and insights about the complex social, urban, architectural, and legal conditions determining Permanent. Through a research by design approach, we will also look into the specific spatial implications of commoning space between different partners and users. With this zooming out, in which we pair academic with architectural, activist and grassroot knowledge, we want the particular case of Permanent to also contribute to broader discussions on urban commons, while also questioning the universality of the notion of the common and engaging with issues of spatial inequality and injustice.

This trajectory is realized in close collaboration with VUB/Cosmopolis/Brussels Centre for Urban Studies and a group of Brussels-based architects. It is followed up by our support panel that brings in expertise in the different implicated fields.

Working structure

Permanent has a core team facilitated by two coördinators that ensure the continuity of the project together with the core partners VUB/we.KONEKT.brussels, VUB/Cosmopolis, Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB), Globe Aroma and Level Five/Hactiris coalition of artists. In addition, there is a changing constellation of work groups, some for specific actions, others for developing more long term projects or enduring tasks. There is a monthly meeting the last Monday of the month open to anyone interested. In these meetings each group gives an update of their progress in the previous month and different tasks and lines of action are drafted for the coming month.