Transgression/Transition: an exploration of the Senne and its surroundings

Website_Transgression_Transition2_web-One of the two sources of the Senne, Naast (Soignies), 2015-

Website_Transgression_Transition1_web-The Senne in the surroundings of Steenkerque, 2015


Transgression/Transition, an exploration of the Senne and its
is an ongoing research project on the Belgian Senne river.
The project started in April 2015 and has known several moments of
exploration and presentation since. In August 2015, as part of the project,
I initiated a field research along the Senne by walking the 103 km course of
the river.

The Senne has its source in Soignies (Wallonia) and flows into the river of the
Dijle at Heffen (Flanders) from where it finally reaches the Schelde and the
North Sea. The Senne flows through the three Belgian regions -Wallonia,
Brussels Capital Region and Flanders- and passes the city of Brussels and
some thirty villages. The river has no existing trail that follows its course. At
certain points it flows underground or along private property.

                                       -The Senne and my route-


Website_Transgression_Transition4_web-Map of Brussel, 1745-


Even though the Senne is a small and unnavigable river, it has had a very
eventful history. It is an undervalued river, much maligned and rather tucked
away than seen. For centuries, the Senne has been used as an open sewer
where not only the excrement and waste water of thousands of families
flowed away, but also heavy chemicals from adjacent factories.

In the nineteenth century, the city of Brussels recognized that the Senne as
open sewer increasingly endangered public health. The water was
contaminated and because of regular flooding epidemics were easily spread.
In 1867 large-scale activities started to fully canalize and tube the Senne in
the center of Brussels. On the ensuing north-south axis, Parisian-style
avenues were constructed: the Boulevard Emile Jacqmain, the Boulevard
Adolphe Max, the Boulevard Anspach and the Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier.
The vaulting of the Senne meant a radical intervention within the urban fabric,
profoundly changing the historical center in the name of its progress,
hygiene and beautification. In the 1970s the Senne was to move again. This
time because of the construction of the pre-metro that followed the
north-south axis and was built in the tubes of the Senne. Today the Senne
makes an underground curve around the city center following the inner city
ring road.

Brussels is not the only city where the Senne disappeared. Also in Soignies
and Vilvoorde the Senne disappears underground.


Website_Transgression_Transition5_web-The Senne in Brussels, ca. 1865. On the left a view from Pont des Vanniers,
on the right, the Senne close to Plattesteen-

Website_Transgression_Transition6_web-The calalization and vaulting of the Senne, Brussels 1867-

Website_Transgression_Transition7_web-Implementation plan for the central boulevards, Brussels ca. 1867-


Because the river has been diverted, polluted and forgotten, its surroundings
became a site for all kinds of informal use. The decades-long absence of a
comprehensive and inter-regional planning policy, fueled by the ostrich
politics of the three Belgian regions, has made the river into a ‘non-place’ or
‘fringe’. The Senne manifests itself as an area of transgression, meandering
through city and countryside. The Transgression/Transition project explores the
river with these considerations in mind and tries to see how its surroundings
today offer room for that what falls outside the norm.

However, there appears to be a growing consciousness among planners and
politicians for the revaluation of the Senne valley. Today the transgressive
space of the Senne is in transition: in view of the potential economic and
commercial interests parts of the river and its surroundings are being
(re)developed. In such a situation of valorization all the facets of the space
come to the fore: the use and its users, the stakes and those who hold it.

By taking the river as its directory the Transgression/Transition project wants
to explore the surroundings along the Senne in order to visualize and outline
the traces of both formal and informal spatial use.


Website_Transgression_Transition8_web-The Senne colored white due to pollution, Lembeek 2014
      (Het Nieuwsblad, 23/11/2014)-

Website_Transgression_Transition9_web-The Senne in a canalized half open tunnel, Machelen 2015-

Website_Transgression_Transition10_web-Garbage dumped from a bridge across the Senne, Soignies 2015-

Website_Transgression_Transition11_web-Bank of the Senne transformed into a public park, Halle 2015-


During my walk the regional area destination maps formed the basis on which
I conducted my research: within the context of those areas I searched for
both informal and formal use of space. To be consequent I continued looking
for a set of parameters that represented the informal and formal. Every time I
encountered one of those parameters, I took a photograph and made notes
on my maps.

Informal parameters:
Informal paths, graffiti, dumped trash, sleeping places, fire places, cut open
fences, ruins, wastelands and hand written signs.

Formal parameters:
Prohibition signs, information signs, fences, camera’s, place and street names,
water treatment plants, new constructed parks, and infrastructures.





Website_Transgression_Transition14_web-Fence blocking the path that leads to the Senne, Brussels 2015-

Website_Transgression_Transition15_web-Senne hidden behind a hedge, Tubize 2015-

Website_Transgression_Transition16_web-Informal path between the Senne and the canal, Vilvoorde 2015-

Website_Transgression_Transition17_web-Sleeping place, Brussels 2015-