Atelier Deep Geothermia is a collaboration between the Team Vlaams Bouwmeester, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and the Flemish Spatial Planning Department (Ruimte Vlaanderen), and is an intensive ‘research-by-design’ trajectory running parallel to ‘Geothermia 2020’, a project funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). In the slipstream of an earlier Bouwmeester design research on ‘Energy Landscapes’, this study focuses on the east of Flanders, to examine the interaction between deep geothermal energy and built landscape. The specific question is how the possible energy transition of this specific region can form a base for a broader development towards a renewed and more sustainable living environment.

The study is specifically set up to be ‘open source’, setting a base on how to interpret and understand the question. One specific challenge was to shift the discussion from a problem-based discourse to one based on the definition of potential. We traced the possible shifts across domains, which requires a mixing of ‘languages’ and overlapping ways of perceiving potential.

The study starts by framing the research question and how it becomes specific in Flanders, with its characteristically dispersed urban settlements. The main design opportunity in Flanders is closely related to this relative dispersion, which still offers a lot of margin for qualitative densification, but also gives a unique potential to develop geothermal plants not as stand-alone devices but rather as an incrementally growing network. Together they can generate an output-input infrastructure that can become truly resilient by facilitating sharing across energy sources.

Following this introductory chapter, two chapters deal with a specific subset of topics. On the one hand, the technical components of a deep geothermal plant, and its spatial implications, and on the other hand, the development dimensions of the built environment, and how they are informed by a sustainable energy transition and future qualities. These two chapters are only beginning to define the topic: by giving these chapters a ‘glossary’ logic, they become open ended, available for further development beyond the limited time scope of this study.

The fourth chapter has both produced and tested the knowledge of the three previous chapters. It contains two test cases, researching two specific areas, and allows to pinpoint the interdependencies between the different shifts that can together transform the region. These cases show both the power and the fragility of the geothermal potential: the heritage of the heavily infrastructured landscape of Flanders offers a lot of opportunities, but they are not up for grabs. Realizing them will require a radical shift in governance, one that is able to manage interdependencies on a variety of scales, merging the incremental qualities of current policies with a return of a scale of management closer to the ‘plan d’ensemble’ of the former coal mines that have once boosted this region. 

The study, in Dutch, is available through this link:

design research on geothermal energy
Matching heat production and heat demand
New Proximity
The reinterpretation of unused industrial coal track as a new energy backbone
Destinations linked to an improved energy & mobility network
Destinations linked to an improved energy & mobility network