Moral borders First prize C
Work title: A Palace of Human Passion (0001001902)
WHO: In an age said to be one of loosening of morals, what is said to be “the world’s oldest work” is today the most despised form of work of them all. Increasingly restrictive regimes are implemented across Europe, as prostitution is considered synonymous to human trafficking. But an increasing amount of voices prove that human trafficking, though existing, is a minor phenomenon compared to migrant sex workers who made the conscious choice to sell their body. In the light of international migratory flows, there is a great potential for prostitution to play an active role in the development of the city, by creating a place where citizens of all origins and statuses meet in a common acceptation of one’s hidden side.
The opposition between high-skilled knowledge employees and mostly low-skilled manufacturers does indeed not apply to the functioning of the sex work economy. A major interest of it is that it can offer high-end services, sometimes of the most luxurious kind, without requesting any particularly high — and expensive¬ — form of education. This fundamental aspect reinforces the potential of prostitution to form a sector of opportunity. The rear entrance to the Western world.
WHERE: Brussels economy is characterized by a double condition. Being the richest European region besides Luxemburg and Inner London, this wealth does not profit most of its inhabitants. Unemployment rates in Brussels are going through the roof, with a regional average of 20,6% as of March 2011. The issue is particularly dramatic with Brussels youth: about 35% of adults under 25 are unemployed. Long unknown to public authorities, parallel informal economies form a true social and economical driving force in the poor neighborhoods of the capital.
As state authority increasingly weakens, non-governmental actors and initiatives get an increasingly bigger role in the determination of their own, and societies’, future. New forms of informal economy need to be developed and accepted in the local economical system, as being the true way people can take their lives in their own hands. The development of what is called the sex “industry” in Brussels can provide a low-threshold service sector that addresses all populations of the metropolis.
HOW: As the main issue of prostitution lies in its visibility in open space, Brusselian government could create a strategic tolerance zone, in a place where large-scale sex industry development can take place while remaining unseen to the urban eye. Create a new public space, which is simultaneously tolerant and censored, simultaneously more public and less public than traditional public space. The search for an available space for such a project ended up being a symbolic one: the Brussels’ Courthouse.
Always conceived in terms of power and monumentality, the Courthouse is unique by the frenzy with which was attempted to achieve grandeur. Exuberance and exaggeration become a design principle. As such, the current proposal programmatically respects the exaggeration that marked it, and even reinforces it. For an architecture that goes too far, a use where one goes too far. We propose to radicalize the exceptional place that is the Brussels Courthouse, as it becomes a place for transgression of good behaviour. A place to reveal the taboos of Brussels. A place to go too far.
WHAT: On the outside, as monumental as it may be, the building reveals nothing of its function as courthouse. The old building typology becomes a new city typology. More than a building, the Brussels Courthouse is a self-enclosing neighborhood of undefined spaces. Its fate uncertain due to inadaptation to contemporary demands, it awaits intervention to take new meanings in the Capital of Europe. To the sex industry, the new Palace of Human Passion offers both a hideout and a monument. As much as it can be open, accessible and crossed from all sides, it does not exhibit what it hosts, acting simultaneously as continuity and limit.
Looking at the Brussels Courthouse as a neighborhood more than a building allows the transformation of the palace to become an “urbanization”, as its new users gradually colonize it. No infrastructure is necessary, everything is already present: the delimitation, the urban insertion, the spatial hierarchy, the exuberance. All allow a natural evolution of the Palace of Human Passion towards becoming the worlds most glorious monument to earthly delights.
The proposal presented above is rooted in two contemporary polemics. As the future of the Brussels Courthouse is today indeed uncertain, the opportunity is taken to put the question of prostitution policies in contemporary society on the foreground. Beyond fiction, the very simple gesture of combining two distinct, but very contemporary issues generates a tension resulting in an architectural and societal provocation raising questions around both polemics.