© Forum 3, Basel, Switzerland, Diener & Diener, Photo © Christian Richters.

Development in Major European Cities as a Model for Brussels

© CB2, OMA, Tramway tunnel, The Hague, The Netherlands, 2004, Photo © Hans Werlemann.

© Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy, Grafton Architects, Photo © Università Bocconi.

© CB4 Enric Miralles, Benedetta Tagliabue, EMBT, Santa Caterina Market, Barcelona, Spain, 2005, Photo © Roland Halbe.

©: CB1, Lacaton & Vassal, Architecture School, Nantes, France 2009, Photo © Philippe Ruault.

© CB5, Abalos & Herreros Arquitectos, Torres Bioclimaticas, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, 2006, Photo © Jose Helvia.


Centre for Fine Arts
10, rue Royale Koningsstraat
02 507 82 00
Building for Brussels
Architecture and Urban Transformation in Europe

October 9-November 28, 2010

At present, Brussels is facing some major social challenges. In the coming years the population will continue to grow, and an increased focus on issues such as jobs, mobility, and public amenities like schools and sporting infrastructure is required. The Building for Brussels exhibition argues that a powerful architectural and urban planning policy can provide answers to these challenges. The current situation offers an opportunity for Brussels to clearly define its ambitions and build the city of tomorrow.

In its search for answers, Building for Brussels is looking to other major European cities. In recent years, cities like Madrid, Zürich, Hamburg and Rotterdam have implemented effective policies geared towards modernisation and improving quality of life. Radical urban transformations have boosted economic development, created jobs, facilitated access to public transport, enabled sufficient affordable housing, and regenerated the urban framework and public space.

Building for Brussels examines how high-quality architectural and urban planning projects can offer answers to the social challenges of the capital of Europe. Using models, films, plans and photographs the exhibition presents a selection of projects designed by highly reputed as well as emerging architects such as Rem Koolhaas/Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Peter Zumthor, MVRDV, Lacaton & Vassal, Christ & Gantenbein and Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen. The exhibition looks at the potential meaning of these visions and projects for the most pressing challenges Brussels is facing.

Five challenges for Brussels
1. Demographic growth –
Building more, better quality homes

The demographic problem in the Brussels Region is twofold. The middle classes, mostly young double-income families with children, are leaving the city to set up home on the outskirts of Brussels or in other Flemish or Walloon cities. However, this urban exodus is largely offset by a substantial influx of more fragile population groups: the population is currently growing by 6% a year, and this figure will rise to 8.2% in the next 10 years. According to forecasts, Brussels will need 50,000 new homes between 2006 and 2021. To respond to this double challenge, the region has to build thousands of new, high-quality social homes and stimulate the construction of homes for the middle classes.

2. Public amenities –
Breathing new life into neighbourhoods

As a result of population growth, Brussels has a shortage of social amenities, such as schools and sporting infrastructure. Public amenities are not isolated elements that simply facilitate a specific programme. Quality projects can play a role in transforming neighbourhoods. They are levers for social cohesion and urban development. Brussels is to design and implement public amenities in such a way that they can bring new life and dynamism to its neighbourhoods.

3. Urban economy –
Stimulating local commerce

The Brussels Capital Region is one of the wealthiest and most productive centres in Europe. This wealth is mainly generated by the tertiary sector, which makes up 90 percent of all economic activity in Brussels. More than half (53 percent) the people working in the tertiary sector, most of whom have had a higher education, commute from outside the region. Given that unemployment in the Brussels Region is sky-high (19.5 percent), there is a huge discrepancy between current economic activity and the qualifications or education level of its residents. Architecture can offer answers to this by reinforcing and spatially enhancing existing informal economies (such as marketplaces and logistical or craft centres) and by developing education centres and business centres for people just starting out.

4. Mobility – Driver of public space
Brussels is committed to reducing car use by a fifth by 2018. To achieve this the region must provide an extensive public transport network and intermodal transfer points on the outskirts of the city. However, mobility is all too often regarded as a purely technical issue, while stations, metro stops and transfer points are some of the busiest public spaces in the city. The necessary mobility projects offer the perfect opportunity to develop the urban identity and create a high-grade public space which has a significant impact on the quality of life of residents, commuters and tourists.

5. New neighbourhoods –
Sustainable transformation
of the urban framework

The Brussels International Development Plan designates 10 strategic locations that should develop into international centres of attraction for the city. These locations are mostly former industrial sites waiting to be repurposed, such as Thurn & Taxis / Tour & Taxis or Schaarbeek Vorming / Schaerbeek-Formation, but also new parts of the city that are currently in full development, such as the European district or the Zuidstation/Gare du Midi. Brussels is today facing the challenge of shaping these areas, making them fully-fledged new neighbourhoods. A quality urban project must seek out innovative typologies that can create a balance between the international function of Brussels and the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Exhibition curator Joachim Declerck is founder and program director of the Architecture Workroom Brussels and head of the professional development program at the Berlage Institute. Educated as architect and urban designer at Ghent University (BE) and the Berlage Institute (NL), Declerck’s activities focus on innovation within the disciplines of architecture and urban design, while exploring their role within the transformation of the built environment. At the Berlage Institute, complementary to the postgraduate, PhD, and public and publications programs, the professional development program broadens the institute’s research activities to the professional sector and opens its laboratory to architectural practitioners, practices, and other related organizations (public and private). Before taking this position, Declerck co-edited the Berlage Institute publication Brussels–A Manifesto: Towards the Capital of Europe and was curator of the exhibition A Vision for Brussels at the Centre for Fine Arts in 2007. Together with Vedran Mimica, he formed the curatorial team when the Berlage Institute was the curator of the 3rd International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, in 2007. He lectures and his writings on the role of architecture and urban design in developing cities are published internationally.

© Mirador, Madrid, Spain, MVRDV, Photo © Rob t’Hart.