Brussels | Ground Euro & Operation Facelift
The recent plans developed for Ground Euro painfully show the reality of the city of Brussels. On top of that, the infamous Capital of Europe was recently unmasked as the most boring city in Europe and a fire broke out in the Berlaymont building, the European Union commission’s headquarters. Between 2003 and 2006 MovingCities followed and participated in the discussion around the presence of the European Union in Brussels and recently went back to take a couple of snapshots and follow-up on the new facelift-strategy for the area.
The discussion about the kind of architecture that best represents Brussels’ role as Capital of Europe was sensational for a second. A lot a strategic, iconographic and political energy was targeted towards this issue in the period of 2003-2006; this most likely due to the expansion the European Union underwent in that period. An expansion which faced some of its leaders with the obvious reality that there were no architectural structures on Ground Euro uniting the different cultures, nor representing the values the European Union standing for. In essence this wouldn’t need to be a dramatic task for an architect, politician or cultural scientist. If it wasn’t in Brussels.
Between 2003 and 2006 it felt like something was happening, when the whole spectacle ended in a circus tent in the heart of Ground Euro. At the time we published “The Image of Europe“-review on that exhibition:
In The Image of Europe exhibition, Koolhaas/AMO constructed an epic history of Europe and the EU with multiple ambitions: to provoke a new iconography, to devise a communication strategy, and to construct a narrative for a continent that certainly has been and still seems to be splintered by political quarrels between nations. If The Image of Europe was sold initially as propaganda to effect change in a complex situation, it should also be considered the hard outcome of the Erasmus Group’s soft discussion on Europe three years ago, the present result of which is without a doubt a construct of realpolitik.
This European content-circus afterward traveled to Munich and Vienna. Since then silence has surrounded the project. The circus is probably dismantled and Rem Koolhaas has been recuperated to become part of the “Reflection Group”. On December 14, 2007, the European Council decided to establish a group of prominent personalities selected on the basis of merit so to identify the key issues which the Union is likely to face in the future. Their mandate is to assist the European Union in effectively anticipating and meeting challenges in the longer term horizon of 2020 to 2030. News about their meetings and discussions seldom reach the public, one reason being the fact that after this issue was recently addressed in the press, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez (chair of the Reflection Group) stated “that at the moment members needed to discuss (this issue) between themselves. He nevertheless admitted that a debate could take place after the summer.”
In April 2008 the EU announced “Operation Facelift“, a competition (organized by the Brussels-Capital Region, in close collaboration with the European Commission and Brussels-Town) for the restructuring of Ground Euro. From 35 teams applying for this, the following 5 teams were selected: Christian de Portzamparc (FR), Fletcher Priest Architects (UK), Xaveer de Geyter Architecten (BE), OMA (NL) and JDS Architects (BE). Stirring away from earlier ambitions to make the area “icon-friendly”, the purpose of the design exercise, anno 2008, was to ride the “eco-train”:
The area covered by the competition is the zone around the “rue de la Loi” between the inner metropolitan ring and the “chaussée d’Etterbeek”. (…). It aims to create an eco-district bringing together the main European administrative centre, diversified housing and cultural and leisure facilities which are accessible to all. This project also meets the shared wish of the European Commission and the regional authorities to reorganise the Commission’s existing premises along the “rue de la Loi”. This would bring the Commission’s holdings within this zone from the current 170.000 m² to 400.000 m² (projected surface area).
The urban design proposed by the winning team fulfills the specifications of the competition and addresses the goals of the master plan for the European district: to create an original urban form bearing a strong and symbolic identity for Europe, and integrating perfectly with the adjoining neighbourhoods; to carry forward a convivial and environmentally-friendly city project combining offices and housing, and giving priority to soft transport modes (public transport, pedestrians, cyclists).
This is the type of comments that would legitimate the ambition all other proposals as well. In the wake of this decision a couple of good articles have been written about this issue; “Grand New Designs for Brussels” (Der Spiegel), “Brussels’ EU quarter set for spectacular facelift” (EurActiv) and “Making Brussels beautiful” (euobserver).
In the mean time, all offices have put their Ground Euro proposals on their websites, the ones of Christian de Portzamparc (FR) and Fletcher Priest Architects (UK) do not provide a direct link, while the results of “Operation Facelift” by JDS Architects (BE) can be found here, by OMA (NL) there and by Xaveer de Geyter Architecten (BE) here.
A couple of snapshots of Ground Euro. The European Capital’s reality in your face…
Pictures by movingcities.org