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Steven Beckers: A history of the Belgian pioneer of urban agriculture

At 58 years of age, the Belgian architect Steven Beckers is more active than ever before. After a successful career, he became one of the main advocates of the circular economy and the initiator of urban agriculture in Belgium. An architect out of the ordinary, this portrait shows a man concerned with the harmony between people and the environment around them.

An exemplary journey

If Steven Beckers defines himself as 'deeply European', it is largely because of his family background. Born in Brussels of a Belgian father and an English mother, his four grandparents all had different nationalities! Close to his paternal grandfather, André Beckers, a renowned engineer who participated in the creation of the Atomium, he decided to turn to architecture at an early stage. He first followed the precepts of the novel education advocated at the Decroly School, then graduated from the Saint-Luc School of Architecture. By then, he had already started affirming his concerns which would take into account issues surrounding ecology and sustainable development. The work he conducted at the end of his education led him to design a vast hotel complex in Morocco, including a kitchen garden on the roof!

An architect who is fond of ecodesign

Steven Beckers continued his architectural training by completing an internship in Switzerland over the course of two years. At the end of it, he decided to go to Britain, seeing the capital city of London as a possible springboard to launch a career in the United States. He got a job at the architectural practice of EPR Architects. Between 1986 and 1996, he learned all the tricks of the trade. He became particularly passionate about ecodesign, something which was fervent among many English architects at the time. At the age of 28, he was appointed Director of the European department and then took charge of many striking competition designs and urban planning projects. He also created a European economic interest group, responsible for building the Expo '98 headquarters in Lisbon.

The return to Belgium

In 1996, the Belgian state chose Steven Beckers to undertake the renovation of the Berlaymont building, the seat of the European Commission in Brussels. The project took up four years of his career, but it eventually ended in 2000 due to a disagreement over the renovations. He then joined the architectural firm Art & Build in Brussels where he worked for eleven years. During this period, he gained major design achievements, such as the Council of Europe's Agora building in Strasbourg. In 2011, he finally left Art & Build and turned to a new field of work: the circular economy. Under the influence of the German thinker Michael Braungart, he founded a consultancy company, Lateral Thinking Factory (LTF), to promote issues of sustainable development.

The advocate of urban agriculture

Since 2013, Steven Beckers has become one of the most ardent proponents of urban agriculture. He first became familiar with this discipline by conducting a study at the request of the Ministry of the Environment. It involved mapping all of the roofs in Brussels, of which 60 hectares were set aside to allow them to be put to agricultural activities in the future. Indeed, the architect continued his environmental approach by founding a new company called BIGH (Building Integrated Greenhouses) in 2015. After three years of work, the first urban aquaponic farm in Brussels was inaugurated in 2018. Located on the roof of Anderlecht's abattoir, it is the largest such installation in Europe, encompassing an area of 4,000 square meters. A fundraising scheme for 8 million euros will soon see two new urban farms in Flanders and Wallonia opening.

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