Within the main geographical frames of the North Sea and the Scheldt estuary, the Doelpolder area stands out for the conflictual relationships between human settlements, environmental crisis, and man-made infrastructures, which are all paradigms of the so-called Anthropocene era.
The site comprises the village of Doel, the natural reserve of Saeftinghe, the nuclear power plant of Doel and the largest dock of the Port of Antwerp in a 2 km long prone-to-flooding area, which is currently undergoing some anthropic phenomena such as pollution, infrastructural expansion of the harbor and dismantlement of the nuclear power plant.
In its process of northbound expansion at the expense of the estuarine territory and the polder-land, the Port has turned Doel into a ghost town by means of expropriation and economic pressure, while the flora and fauna of Saeftinghe are endangered by the alteration of their brackish habitat caused by pollution and water level rise. This everlasting dichotomy between natural and anthropized processes poses here the dualistic problem of extinction/preservation and (how) can architecture depict a self-healing survival scenario for the site in the Post-Anthropocene attempting at climate change mitigation and nature metabolism at the same time.
The project first addresses the aforementioned issues with a regional strategic and energetic plan foreseeing the “de-polderization” of the area with its transformation into a controlled tidal zone and the simultaneous expansion of the natural reserve. The area is in fact both a “gateway” to Antwerp and part of a flemish coastal green buffer zone for the mitigation of flooding and sea-level rise. The project also takes a position regarding the future re-use of (parts of) the nuclear power station starting from 2025. On the smaller scale, the architecture here implemented is a “knowledge ark” with related laboratories, a facility which can exploit the world-level Port infrastructure for an optimized logistic but also the proximity of the natural reserve and the former agricultural vocation of the area. This repository building consists of a seed vault and a frozen zoo for the conservation of species through cryopreservation technique but most importantly is an architectural object designed to survive time and resist or accommodate territorial transformations for guaranteeing a possible rebirth of both nature and culture.