A green alternative

Nick Myall
Tuesday 24 Jan 2017

Vincent Callebaut Architectures are creating a mixed-use eco-neighbourhood in Brussels that incorporates an Art Nouveau railway station

According to Vincent Callebaut Architectures the architects of this unique eco-project in Brussels…

“Most developing countries can write their future starting from a blank slate, however developed European cities face the challenge of transforming their built heritage to secure their energy, social and economic transition towards post-carbon, circular and interdependent urban living.

“It means being determined to act as forward thinkers, and to bring our new project “Tour & Taxis” into the 21st century in terms of uses, technological progress, social innovation, and sustainable building principles. Today's architecture is capable of implementing "energy solidarity" between a piece of architectural heritage -- industrial in this case -- and a contemporary project. The latter provides the necessary energy to the former by integrating renewable energies, thus limiting carbon emissions as recommended by the COP 21.”

Built between 1902 et 1907, Tour & Taxis used to be a large customs clearance and storage complex in the 20th century, located at the river, road and railway gates of Brussels, now Europe's capital city.

Covering 40 hectares (c. 100 acres) of former wetlands, this industrial park is a worldwide symbol of industrialization's golden age – its engineering, ironwork, stonework and natural light.

It lost its utility with the progressive lifting of Europe's custom borders, but the Tour & Taxis neighbourhood is currently undergoing a major renewal, and is once again on the verge of becoming an important vehicle for the economic and cultural development of Brussels, bringing in a sense of well-being and community.

The warehouses and sheds have been repurposed with corporate sustainability and the knowledge economy in mind, and a dedication to energy saving and the reuse of renewable energies.

The ultimate goal is to create a genuine mixed-use eco-neighbourhood where it is pleasant to be, work, live and play; an eco-neighbourhood along the Brussels canal, articulated around three axes: revitalization of the built heritage, sustainable communities, and water.

This redevelopment is combined with the creation of a bridge for public, non-motorized and shared transportation that will link the Rue Picard on the south side of the site to the Gare du Nord train station.

The project focuses on the "metamorphosis" of the Gare Maritime (Marine Terminal) into 50,000 sq m(c. 538,000 sq ft) of mixed-use space composed of professional activities (offices, workshops, etc.), retail activites (markets, showrooms, shops, fablabs, etc.) and public amenities. Across from the pediment of the Gare Maritime, the project also includes the eco-design of three residential "vertical forests" totalling 85,000 sq m (c. 915,000 sq ft), as well as the creation of a large pond bordered by a natural and biological pool which links the Tour & Taxis park to the Brussels canal.

The Gare Maritime is uniquely large and majestic, and is divided into five parallel iron, cast iron and glass "vessels". These days, it sits empty and is one of the largest terminals in Europe, with a floor area of 40,000 sq m (c. 430,000 sq ft) .

In his time, Frédéric Bruneel, the railways' chief engineer, decorated it like an Art Nouveau masterpiece, with wrought iron and stylized vegetal forms that still adorn the pillars and arches today.

The architects propose to bring the new public park and the canal inside the Gare Maritime along the 280m (c. 920ft) length of its naves, creating a genuine BIOCAMPUS (eco-campus) where it feels good to work and relax.

The two median naves are thus "innervated" with vegetation and water. These interior gardens – tropical to the east and continental to the west – climb along the façades of the various functional spaces, forming cascades of exotic and endemic plants.

The various styles of contemporary architecture resolutely assert their time. Biomimetics inform their shape and structure, as well as the biosourced materials used according to flexible and modular construction principles. Contrasting with the wrought iron of the five naves facing it, the BIOCAMPUS is built in solid wood and cross-laminated timber (CLT) to reduce the intrinsic carbon footprint of the construction, while bringing warmth and comfort to the microclimatic interior landscape.

The spatial organization of the BIOCAMPUS promotes innovation, interdisciplinarity and  transversality – all aimed towards co-working and the circular economy of this early 21st century, based on the "Triple R" theory: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

The BIOCAMPUS establishes an individual architectural identity for each of the five naves – enhancing the industrial heritage while guaranteeing visual permeability between the large three main naves:

The recurring theme of the overall project is to offer living and working spaces of different scales that promote chance meetings and multidisciplinarity while boosting innovation. These spaces – each of different but always human, Roman piazza-inspired sizes – are linked together by ground-level bicycle paths, while over 6.6m (c. 22 ft) above, tree-perched footbridges offer unique perspective views of the wrought iron floral motifs designed by Frédéric Bruneel.

All the co-working, e-business and e-sharing spaces can be allocated to multiple long-term businesses, or be turned into a start-up cluster. The interior space planning is flexible and easily adjustable, thanks to raised floors pre-installed with plumbing, HVAC and NICT. They only use biosourced materials that are recycled and/or recyclable according to "cradle to cradle" standards.

Source: Vincent Callebaut Architectures, Paris

Nick Myall

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