Research for a historical village center in full expansion.
Project team: IEA, Antea Group

The urban and architectural research involves defining the qualities of the village character within the densification areas for the centers of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Olen and Sint-Jozef-Olen. The municipality of Olen aims for a better integration of new developments within the existing built-up fabric, while preserving the "village character" of the central areas.
In the recent decades, the urban planning has allowed the further expansion of the center beyond the existing structures that were conveying the distinctive character of the village. The expansions took shape through ribbon development, parcelllation and apartmentization. The latest building projects around the village are typical examples of speculative urbanism, no longer in harmony with the existing village fabric. This also has diminished the visual relationship with the landscape as the open space has disappeared from the village centers.
The residential function in the center grew considerably in the past decades. The residents are no more relying only on the village to find work, facilities or social contacts. An important traffic function runs through the centers of Sint-Jozef-Olen and Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Olen and the current layout of the public domain is mainly based on the car.
The well-founded analysis of the village structure and architecture, led to the logic that shaped the village and gave it individuality in the first place, allowing it to be reused as basis for future development and identity shaping. The main strategy for the further development of the village is based on the reading of the local history of the village. The correct interpretation of the public domain is a key element in outlining the existing structure. Public places become often important landmarks that help determine its individuality.
Through research for a frame of reference, the historical evolution of the village was mapped out in detail. New points of view were generated through juxtaposing archival and postcard material to the contemporary conditions . This shed light on all changes that had taken place in the past decades. With an eye towards determining the individual character and image of the village, the immovable heritage was mapped and inventoried. After site visits, existing buildings which bear unique architectural qualities but were not included in the heritage inventory, were selected. Based on this, a couple of general architectural characteristics of the bygone village architecture were highlighted.