Affairs of Poelaert - Tales around a monument

Affairs of Poelaert - Tales around a monument
An ode to stories surrounding the Palace of Justice in Brussels, as documentation of its societal relations.

Tara McKenna
Brussels, Belgium
Tara McKenna is a transmedial storyteller, practising within and across the fields of urbanism, architecture, art, and literature.
Field of work
Architecture, Urban planning, Multimedia, Communication, Research
Project category
Project submitted

Brought up by the Irish and Adriatic seas, Irish-Croatian Tara McKenna is a transmedial storyteller, practising within and across the fields of urbanism, architecture, art, and literature. For the past four years she has been based in Brussels, Belgium and is currently making a living as an architect. Tara started her architecture studies at TU Dublin in Ireland, followed by a Master’s degree in Architecture at KU Leuven in Belgium. There, she discovered her affinity for writing about architecture, and used writing alongside typical graphic and sculptural concept development for both her design studio projects and thesis project. This unusual intersection of practices was adopted to her architectural approach that she continues to nurture. Her writing and editing skills were sought after during and after her studies. At KU Leuven, she was asked to give peer review and guidance, which Tara adopted with ease and she continues to practise this with her professional associates and friends. She helps her peers clarify the complexities of their ideas and research, ranging from art residency applications, or PhD applications, to thesis structuring and editing. Following graduation, Tara showed her competence as textual editor for her thesis tutor’s PhD. She brought a keen eye for detail, clarity, and structure to the exposition of the textual research and results. She has since been invited back to KU Leuven as a guest jury member on numerous occasions. Her writing aims to cherish the complexity and sensitivity of her subjects. In her academic writing, her language is sparse of jargon. In her poetry and fiction, she wields specific setting details to convey broader narratives, beyond the addressed scenes. Often, these play with forms of narrative, self reflection (of both the author and reader), and performance. Regardless of Tara’s medium of storytelling, academic or not, her command of language always feels personal, as if she were telling the story specifically for you.

Architects and urban planners create analysis drawings that anticipate spatial use and consequences. This writing proposal performs the same task. One can see it as complementary practices, where drawings document and test physical movement through space while textual work can document emotional interaction with a place. Just as drawings evaluate a design idea, so too a piece of writing. Essentially the proposal is to make an architectural feasibility study through fictional writing.
Affairs of Poelaert is an anthology of short stories that document and project personal interactions with the Palace of Justice in Brussels. Perpetually subject to deterioration and administrative indecisiveness, the Palace of Justice maintains a liminal character towards the city’s inhabitants. Competitions, redesign proposals, and political debates have addressed the challenges the building faces, but none have been convincing enough to follow through, which leaves the building in ever-delaying repairs to maintain its current condition, unable to change for a more sustainable development in environmental and social integration. The stories will take place at different points in time in or around the building. These begin with when it was first armoured with scaffolding in the eighties, to current day, to projecting future impressions of a possible commercial and hospitality retrofitting of the building, to a further future condition in which that retrofit fails to achieve the desired social use and relation; the assembly of which materialises as documentation of its impression on local characters.