Marcel Smets is emeritus professor of urban design at the University of Leuven (BE). He has been a visiting lecturer and critic at ILAUD (Urbino, 1976, 1979), the University of Thessaloniki (1987) and Harvard GSD (2002, 2003, 2004). During his academic career, he has written several books, including monographs on Huib Hoste (1972) and Charles Buls (1995/1999), as well as the reference works on the history of public housing (De ontwikkeling van de tuinwijkgedachte in België / L’Avènement de la Cité-Jardin en Belgique, 1977) and the reconstruction of Belgium after 1914 (Resurgam, 1985). Together with Kelly Shannon, he published the authoritative The Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure (2010/2016). In 2016 he released the autobiographical De Stad ontwerpen. His articles have appeared in Archis, Casabella, Lotus, Planning Perspectives, Storia Urbana, Topos, Urbanisme and Urbanistica.
Marcel Smets acted as urban designer for the redevelopment of the station area in Leuven (1991–2002) and the transformation of Île de Nantes (2010–16). As a member of various teams, he has worked on the reappropriation of comprehensive port sites in Rouen (1993–94) and Genoa (1998/2001), the upgrading of obsolete industrial sites in Cornegliano (2001–02) and Treviso (2003–04), the regional development strategy for the Durance Valley (2009–11) and many other large-scale urban projects in Belgium and Europe.
His social commitment has manifested itself in his mandate as second Flemish Government Architect (2005–10), his work on the Scientific Committee of Europan (1988–2004) and his Presidency of the Institut pour la Ville en Mouvement (IVM, 2012–16).
Marcel Smets has also served as a jury member for several international competitions. Since 2015 Marcel Smets has been a senior adviser for ORG Urbanism, the Brussels- and New York-based design firm led by his former collaborator Alexander D’Hooghe. He actively took part there in various projects, among others, the covering of the Antwerp Ring, the development plan for the riverbanks in Aalst, the Europalaan in Genk, the Regulatory Plan for and the design of the public domain in the Brussels Canal Zone, the development plan for the Science Park Leuven North and the refurbishment of the E411 urban motorway in the south-west of Brussels.
Marcel Smets was elected a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium in 2009. He was awarded the first MoRO Prize of Ghent University in 2014 and he received the Matexi Legacy Award in 2016.