The Transition Landscape Atlas explores the post-mining landscape of Hoge Kempen to trace how the design space of its ‘heritage-development’ is staged. It starts from the UNESCO nomination for this landscape which describes it as a unique material document of the transition between rural and industrial modes of production. Heather fields, creeks, forest estates and water mills stand next to the industrial heritage of three former mines, with slag heaps and garden cities. The story of the transition as heritage is strongly connected to the intangible landscape: the migration history of garden cities that hosted thousands of workers coming from South and East of Europe and North of Africa. The mining sites closed by the 1980s and were eventually repurposed as a cultural centre, technology park and art museum, while the garden cities were designated as established architectural heritage. In the UNESCO nomination, the authors underline the landscape hybridity as a particular value to be preserved for the future - not just as a feature of tangible patrimony, but also as a heritage of migration and encounters of different cultures.
The atlas explores how the past travels to the design space of this landscape in relation to contemporary challenges - those of balancing between heritage conservation, economic development and the urgency of sustainable transition. It zooms in on how these challenges emerge through specific concerns in the garden city of Waterschei, a neighbourhood in the city of Genk. In doing so, the atlas focuses on two landscape ‘things’ as sites of tensions between different perspectives on the values of heritage and development. These two things are ‘garden city houses’ and ‘rows of trees’, both evaluated as elements of a heritage ensemble3. By tracing the tensions that emerge around the future of these two things, the atlas explores how ‘development’ is staged as a vision for the future, as well as how it is challenged through practices in the historical landscape: How is the image of a ‘transition landscape’ produced and maintained? How is its design space shaped by engaging with the past? What is allowed to enter this space, and what is hindered from doing so?