HomePhD fellowship for a research project on “Reinventions of modernist rural landscapes”

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Published on Wednesday, June 01, 2016 by Céline Guilleux


MODSCAPES deals with rural landscapes produced by large-scale agricultural development and colonization schemes planned in the 20th century throughout Europe and beyond. Conceived in different political and ideological contexts, such schemes were pivotal to nation-building and state-building policies, and to the modernization of the countryside. They provided a testing ground for the ideas and tools of environmental and social scientists, architects, engineers, planners, landscape architects and artists, which converged around a shared challenge. 



MODSCAPES deals with rural landscapes produced by large-scale agricultural development and colonization schemes planned in the 20th century throughout Europe and beyond. Conceived in different political and ideological contexts, such schemes were pivotal to nation-building and state-building policies, and to the modernization of the countryside. They provided a testing ground for the ideas and tools of environmental and social scientists, architects, engineers, planners, landscape architects and artists, which converged around a shared challenge. Their implementation produced new rural landscapes which have seldom been considered as a transnational research topic. Hence, MODSCAPES aims to raise awareness around this largely underestimated shared cultural heritage which stands today as a tangible evidence of recent European history.

MODSCAPES is carried out by a team gathering expertise in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning, art history and anthropology. It is led by five experienced individual investigators, with the support of four associated partners of international relevance in their specific areas of activities. MODSCAPES combines research-driven and bottom-up participatory activities based on the collection, treatment, elaboration, and critical discussion of visual data and multiple narratives regarding 10 case studies located in 7 UE- and 3 non-UE neighboring countries. Introducing the concept of landscape as a unifying paradigm for a trans-disciplinary approach to the topic’s tangible (the built environment) and intangible legacies (the related cultural and sociopolitical contexts), this project aims to establish its European relevance, but also to bridge research, practice and policies. Hence, it aspires to test its outcomes against the current challenges faced by modern rural landscapes as a resource for future “reflective societies” and “inclusive environments”. MODSCAPES’ various deliverables and activities engage and target diversified audiences to enable a better understanding of the common patterns and rich diversities which shaped our national identities and may help to support shared European narratives.

The candidate will integrate the ULB team, coordinated by prof. Luisa MORETTO, and under the supervision of Dr. Axel FISHER, which deals with four case studies (Pontine Marshes – Italy, Ebro Valley – Spain, Jezreel Valley – Israel/Palestinian Territories, Gharb plain – Morocco)

In particular, he/she will focus on the Moroccan case study. The establishment of the French Protectorate on Morocco (1912-1956) entailed the radical shift of the country’s traditional settlement system based on the Imperial cities towards industrial coastal cities. To support the colonial urban development, the French launched in the early 1920s an electrification policy, the so-called “politique des barrages”, at a time when mainland France was pursuing “white coal” (houille blanche) as an alternative to petrol-based electrical power. Alongside with the new dams and power plants realized along the Atlas mountain ridge (with works entrusted to French planners, landscape architects and architects already involved in extending the old medinas into modern colonial towns, such as Henri Prost), the coastal plains’ irrigation systems were reorganized. New settlements funded by French private banking and trade companies were established, with the secondary objective of sedentarizing a supportive “cushion” local Arab population against the threat of Moroccan rebels who found refuge in the mountains. A form of continuation of this policy is to be found after WWII, when the Protectorate’s chief-architect and planner, Michel Écochard, was entrusted with a large reclamation and rural resettlement scheme of the Gharb Valley. Such a scheme entailed the modernization and extension of many existing villages, but also the creation of a totally new network of agro-industrial cities, and has often been cited as an example of early modernist participatory planning process. Eventually, this scheme was continued by Écochard and his team after independence, and by the Moroccan State late into the 1980s.

Apart from Écochard’s few published articles, little is known about this case-study. Henri Post’s archives at the Cité de l’architecture in Paris have been thoroughly examined, but the link between his power plants design and the “politique des grands barrages” has not been established yet. Excellent scholarship has dealt with French planning in Morocco, and especially with Écochard’s works, but mainly in the urban sphere (Avermaete - Casciato, 2014). Finally, the links between planning policies in the countryside developed under French colonial rule and after independent Morocco are still to be established.

Fresh and unpublished photograph’s of Écochard’s personal archives are held at the host’s institution, as well as the archives of Belgian architect and coopérant Jean Hensens, and are waiting to be processed. Much archival material held at the French military archives in Vincennes and the Protectorate’s archives in Aix-en-Provence have not been disclosed yet. There is an important interest in unveiling and processing this material on colonial enterprises which sheds new light on the history of French and European modernist planning.

From a methodological point of view, the candidate will also contribute to the ULB team lead on two workpackages planned in the MODSCAPES project: “documenting” agricultural development and colonization schemes; “changes and challenges” faced by modernist rural landscapes. In particular, the candidate will develop an original reflection on analytical tools to analyze and understand the whole process which eventually led to the production of modernist rural landscapes. Similarly, he/she will test innovative methodologies for identifying current changes and challenges occurring in modernist rural landscapes, and for governing these changes, such as for instance design-driven exploratory scenario-building strategies.

Research environment

Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) is a top Belgian and top-101/150 (ARWU-Academic Ranking of World Universities 2015) to top-207 world universities (QS World University Rankings® 2015/16). ULB is an active member of the EU Research Area and is involved in almost 130 FP7-funded projects. 4 scientific Nobel Prizes, 1 Fields Medal, 3 Wolf Prizes and 2 Marie Curie Prizes evidence ULB’s longstanding tradition of excellence. Over the past few years, it has obtained 9 ERC Grants. ULB’s annual research budget stands at €160m, approximately 75% of which comes from international, national, and regional research agreements, as well as from the patronage of a range of Foundations. The ULB’s Faculty of Architecture is French-speaking Belgium’s largest and most dynamic institution for education and research in the fields of architecture, urbanism, and landscape. The Faculty’s research centers established in 2011, CLARA and HABITER, have already attracted some €3m research funding. The research center HABITER at ULB’s Faculty of Architecture is engaged with the study of landscape, urban and territorial transformation dynamics in the North as well as in the South of the world. Its activities are focused on cooperation and development issues at large, with an ecological and cultural approach to sustainability and context. Since its creation in June 2013, HABITER has managed to attract around €2m from regional, national and European research programs, dealing with built heritage, rural landscapes, development cooperation, urban planning, sustainable urbanism and buildings. At present, HABITER relies on a staff of 24 persons (academics, post-doc and junior researchers, PhDs candidates, administrator). Extensive research on MODSCAPES’ topic has been built up over time at HABITER, with the organization of an ESF-funded exploratory research workshop (2013, “Promised Lands: internal colonization in 20th century Mediterranean history”), and around the unpublished archives of French architect Michel Écochard’s plans of rural development for the Gharb Valley in Morocco held at the center. The MODSCAPES team at ULB consists of prof. L.Moretto, prof. Ph.Lecoq, 1 PhD researcher, 1 Post-doc fellow, and is supported by Dr. Axel Fisher, an FNRS-funded post-doc researcher  conducting his own individual project within HABITER; the ARA project (Architecture et réforme agraire – Architecture and agrarian reform).


In relation to the PhD project:

  • To develop literature review, conduct archival and field research on the indicated case study, elaborate the proposed dissertation project including its conceptual and methodological framework, unfold an autonomous dissertation contributing to both knowledge on the case study, on the MODSCAPES topic, and an original reflective contribution to the development of knowledge in the field of spatial design;
  • To attend doctoral training as of the school’s regulations.

In relation to the MODSCAPES project:

  • To collaborate to the research project management and to the organization of MODSCAPES’ planned events and activities;
  • To produce conference papers and contributions, as well as collaborate to the project’s planned deliverables, including scientific papers in international journals and MODSCAPES project reports, papers, monograph and exhibition;

In relation to the host institution: The candidate will also perform administrative work related to the host research center’s activities, and will assist prof. Moretto in the coordination of MODSCAPES activities. In addition, he/she will perform tasks related to didactic supervision, in particular in the course of “Landscape theory” (Bachelor programs in architecture and in landscape architecture) and in the optional course module in “landscape and territory” (Master programs in architecture and in landscape architecture).


  • Master degree either in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, regional planning.
  • Strong interest for Modernist architecture and urban design, for geography and rural development, for colonial studies and cultural heritage; excellent knowledge of 20th century architectural and urban design history and theory; original perspective on the current practice and research trends in the discipline;
  • Experience in the field (archival research, fieldwork, architectural / urban / landscape design);
  • Advanced user skills in Office-like applications; excellent skills in Adobe Suite; excellent skills in 2D-vector drawing applications (Autocad or the like); knowledge of GIS applications and management of georeferenced databases is a plus.


  • Fluency in English, both oral and writing, for integrating the European research team. B2 level is a minimal requirement; candidates will be invited to attend English academic writing classes at ULB to gain C1 level proficiency;
  • Good knowledge of French for conducting fieldwork and research in France and Morocco, for integrating the host research environment, and for teaching duties. B1 level is a minimal requirement; candidates will be invited to attend French as foreign language classes at ULB to gain C1 level proficiency;
  • Basic knowledge of Arabic (A2-B1 level) is a plus for conducting fieldwork and research in Morocco;
  • Basic knowledge of Italian, Portuguese, German, Greek, Turkish, Russian, and/or Spanish are a plus for interacting with the European research team and their case studies;


Regular travels to case study areas (Morocco, in particular; but also Italy, Spain, Israel/Palestinian territories), regular travels to partners’ host institutions (Italy, Portugal, Greece, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania).

Job specificities

  • Full-time (candidates may not carry out any other professional activity nor receive any remuneration or salary for such activities, including any freelance or self-employed activity);
  • 3-years contract. Renewal for fourth year can be obtained after submission of an application to the F.R.S.-FNRS Belgian National Fund for Research (subject to a positive review of the application’s excellence);
  • Net monthly income of scholarship (exempt from income tax): 1.879,32 € during year 1 and 2 (1.899,92€ during year 3, and 4);
  • Scholarship includes full healthcare costs and social security entitlements;
  • Costs for travel, international mobility stays, fieldwork, publications, equipment and purchase of research material are budgeted for by the awarded funding for the MODSCAPES project (limited amounts);
  • Location: Brussels.
  • Starting date: October 1st 2016. 

Nr of positions available


Research Fields

  • Architectural,
  • urban design,
  • landscape,
  • planning history,
  • theory and design

Career Stage

Early stage researcher or Post graduate (maximum 3 years elapsed from obtaining the last master degree at the time of entering position).

The Research fellowship is open to holders of:

  1. a master degree for a value of at least 120 credits awarded by a Higher Education Institution within the French-speaking Community of Belgium;
  2. a master degree for a value of at least 120 credits awarded by a Higher Education Institution within the Dutch-speaking Community, German-speaking Community or from the Royal Military Academy.
  3. Any degree as referred to in Article 115 of the Decree of 7th November 2013 of the French-speaking Community of Belgium that defines the landscape of Higher Education and the academic studies organisation. 

Students who are completing the last year of their studies leading to the delivery of a master degree as referred to above before October 1st may also submit their application.

Comment/web site for additional job details


This is a two-stage selection process.

For stage one, please send your application, in pdf format and via email (max. 1Mb, or download link), to Dr. Axel FISHER (axel.fisher@ulb.ac.be)

as soon as possible, an no later than July 3rd 2016.

Your application should include:

  • a motivation letter;
  • a detailed CV (including your publications list);
  • an electronic version of your master and/or PhD thesis;
  • the contact details of two external referees;
  • draft “PhD project” duly completed (max. 7 pages of text).

For stage two: a first pool of pre-selected candidates will be invited to an (online or face-to-face) interview, between July 11th-15th (approximately). This interview will focus on the skills and competences of the candidates, as well as on their draft “PhD project”. 

The selected candidate will be informed before the end of July 2016, and invited to complete the administrative and scientific part of his/her application as soon as possible (by early September 2016).

The MODSCAPES partners, including the ULB team, are committed to equal opportunity and positive discrimination recruitment policies.

For more details about this position, about the application process, and about the research project, please contact (ideally via email):


Faculty of Architecture, HABITER research Centre, Université libre de Bruxelles
21 rue Belvédère,
1050 Bruxelles
Tel: +32 (0)2 639 24 24
Research unit: https://www.ulb.ac.be/rech/inventaire/unites/ULB759.html


  • Brussels, Belgium (1050)


  • Sunday, July 03, 2016


  • rural, planning, landscape

Information source

  • Axel Fisher
    courriel : axel [dot] fisher [at] ulb [dot] ac [dot] be

To cite this announcement

« PhD fellowship for a research project on “Reinventions of modernist rural landscapes” », Scholarship, prize and job offer, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, June 01, 2016, https://calenda.org/368646

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