Marcel Smets has studied architecture, engineering (University of Ghent, 1970) and urban design (Technical University Delft, 1974). He obtained a PhD from the University of Leuven (1976), where he was appointed to the chair of Urbanism in 1978. He has been active in theory and history with monographies on Huib Hoste (1972), Charles Buls (1995/ 1999), the Belgian garden cities (L’Avènement de la Cité-Jardin en Belgique, 1977) and the reconstruction of Belgium after 1914 (Resurgam, 1985). He served as a critic for Archis, Topos, Lotus, Casabella and as juror for many competitions. Smets was founding member of the ILAUD (Urbino,1978), visiting professor at the University of Thessaloniki (1987), and Design Critic at the Harvard University GSD (2002, 2003, 2004). He was an active collaborator and later member of the scientific committee for EUROPAN (1995-2004); and worked as member and later as chairman of the CSO (Scientific and Steering Committee) for the Institut pour la Ville en Mouvement (2007-2015).
From 1989 to 2001, he founded and directed Projectteam Stadsontwerp, a design based research group at the Leuven University, specialized in the urban re-appropriation of abandoned industrial areas and outworn infrastructures. In this function, he acted as chief urban designer for widely published conversion projects, such as the transformation of the Railway Station area , the Arsenal and Canal docks at Leuven (Melding Town and Track. The railway area project at Leuven, 2002), and Central Station surroundings in Antwerp (B), the village center in Hoeilaart (B), Cornigliano harbor and RIVA steel works in Genova (I), the harbor industrial development area in Rouen(F). From 2002 onward, Smets continued a significant design practice as consultant in various office combinations. He acted as chief designer for competitions and projects in Caorle (I), Conegliano (I), Durance Valley (F), Voltri (I), Porto (P), Rungis (F) and Isle de Nantes (F). In 2015, he joined forces with Alexander D’Hooghe, his former student and collaborator, and became advisor and partner in ORG Urbanism. With this Brussels based office, he worked on projects for the Antwerp Ring Coverage (2015-18), River Dender in Aalst (2015-17), Europa Avenue Genk (2016-18), Redevelopment Viaduct E411 in Brussels (2016-18), Re-appropriation B401 viaduct in Ghent (2016-17), Urban Image Plan Canal Area Brussels (2017-2018).
In June 2005, Smets was appointed Chief Architect for the Flemish Region, a five year mandate in which he managed the public design commissions for the Government. In line with his design practice, Smets’ research interest has recently shifted to infrastructure as a means of (re)structuring cities and landscapes. In 2010, he co-authored with K. Shannon the influential book on The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure. In 2009, Smets was elected to the Royal Academy of Belgium, Section of the Arts. In 2014, he was granted the Prize of the MO-RO Foundation, and received the Matexi Legacy Award in 2016.