A letter to students

A call for research as ‘soul work’

Philippe Vandenbroeck
3 min readOct 12, 2023

At Newrope, the Chair for Architecture and Urban Transformation at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, we have a habit of writing letters to people we like. I addressed a letter to the five landscape architecture master’s students — Diana, Dylan, Lauro, Nick, Serena — whom I accompanied on a field trip to the site where I am conducting my doctoral research. It is a former mining site that contains a monumental, undeveloped mining waste dump (‘terril’).


Mound: “Garbage is the formlessness from which form takes flight (…). Garbage is the entrails, the bits or scraps, the mountain of indistinguishable stuff that is in its own way affirmed by a resolute dismissal: it is refused (not accepted, denied, banished). “ — John Scanlan, ‘On Garbage’ (Photo: Furillen, Gotland, Sweden, 2019))

Breast: “Breasts may be perceived as life-giving organs related to reproduction and breast-feeding, or as life-taking organs through their susceptibility to cancer.” — Birgitta Haga Gripsrud et al., ‘Psychosocial and Symbolic Dimensions of the Breast Explored through a Visual Matrix’ (Photo, Rishiri Island, Japan, 2015)

Tomb: “How can someone integrate in a country if they can’t even bury their dead there?” — Wim Cuyvers, DE-AD (Photo: Laugarbakki, Iceland, 2009)

Pyramid: “The pyramid was originally the scene of life and presence because it was the place of sacred life, reserved for the gods and
their sons, the pharaohs. Accordingly it was located in the desert within a necropolis, a city of the dead.” — Robert Mugerauer, Interpreting Environments (Photo: Mons, Belgium, 2016)

Eros: “It is so much easier to transcend history by climbing the mountain and let come what may than it is to work on history within us. (…) Change in the valley requires recognition of history, an archaeology of the soul, a digging in the ruins, a recollecting.” — James Hillman, Puer & Senex (Photo taken by Pierre Vandenbroeck, Florennes, Belgium, 1973)

Mountain: “What exists in the mountain exists also outside of it (…) And in the air all the thoughts of the world can be accommodated.” — Georg Gudni, from his sketchbooks (Photo: Gunten, Switzerland, 2008)

Terril: “Active imagination is a knowledge that liberates, a learning process that does not seek to fantasize the world but to participate in creation.” — Joshua Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze (Photo: Winterslag, Belgium, 2023)

Island: “There, at the horizon, new land arises from the sea, or, a new idea comes about. Far removed from the Others, the deserted island might offer us a new philosophy.” — Rick Dolphyn, A Philosophy of Matter (Photo: Stromboli, Italy, 2021)

Ruin: “This contemporary obsession with ruins hides a nostalgia for an earlier age that had not yet lost its power to imagine other futures.” — Andres Huyssen, Nostalgia for Ruins (Photo: Bierbeek, Belgium, 2018)

All pictures by myself, with the exception of the ‘Eros’ picture which was taken by my dad, Pierre Vandenbroeck (+). Artwork by OK-RM. Screen printed in an edition of 50 by Plakatif AG, Zürich. With the kind support of Freek Persyn and Louise Osieka. With thanks to Teresa Galí-Izard and the Chair for Being Alive, D-ARCH, ETH Zürich, for hosting the premiere reading.



Philippe Vandenbroeck

Facilitator @ shiftN ⎹ Post-disciplinary researcher @ Newrope, ETH Zürich ⎹ How to create spaces were life is able to unfold, and is experienced as life?