Nancy Marrs (She/Her)
Stage 5 (2023) Design Thesis Proposal
Brussels is the world’s second most diverse city. Where the majority (over 70%) of the population originate from outside of Belgium, 108 nationalities co-exist, 108 different languages are spoken and over 3 languages are formally recognised across the city; making Brussels a world leader of multiculturalism.
We are often drawn to inhabiting space with people who share the same culture, way of life and language. In Brussels this has led to different communities inhabiting specific areas of the metropolis, encouraging a somewhat segregated society where both manmade (e.g the canal which was formed from re-routing the Senne River) and intangible boundaries (e.g language barriers and cultural divisions) visibly draw the line between different communities within the city.
This design proposal will capitalise on the vacant space currently present in the North District, specifically in the WTC III high-rise tower, transforming the 70,000sqm of unused infrastructure into a space which can be reclaimed by a community. The scheme and community who will inhabit the high-rise structure will celebrate Brussels diversity.
Taking the street as a democratic space within the city, this project uses the Brussels Street typology to form a design proposal. The proposal will take the traditional horizontal street as an exemplar of urban circulation in Brussels to create a vertical streetscape. The street through the building will reflect the compressed nature of programmes, vibrant activity and level of diversity which is unique to the Brussels’ streets.
The arts (theatre, film, art and music) are recognised within the structure as a communicative tool which provide a stage to celebrate different cultures. The users of the building are encouraged to interact at all levels of the building, from Belgian nationals, migrant communities and people who have just entered Brussels.
Designing spaces which are accessible to everyone regarding their culture, language or background is what creates the basis for an ethical city. These space’s allow communities to learn from one another, raise awareness of social disparities and civil imbalances as well as working to eradicate racial stereotypes and promote a more equitable and balanced society.
This design strategy works to build upon what is existing on site. Opening the existing WTC III tower enabled me to create vertical streets and public spaces within the existing structure. By carving out of the existing structure I designed circulation which meandered up the building, enabling me to create open streets (opposed to corridors).
This same design strategy was then taken into the new build. The creation of a new urban wall around the existing structure protected the inner spaces from the prevailing South-West wind. Carving into the new urban wall allowed for light to reach specific spaces. The larger arts programmes will break this urban wall and expand onto the internal courtyard space.
Creating vertical connections through programme, the streetscape and the architecture was explored through model making. Plaster, thread and foam were all used to create 1:1000 models which assisted the spatial organisation and design development of the project.
Diversifying the High-rise
The Boulevard Roi Albert II is where a lot of the high-rise corporate offices are located within the North District, however you can see in the land use diagram that this strip is bordered by multiple communities. On site I found that the spaces where the corporate offices were located were often lacking in activity. Whereas when you cross some of the physical boundaries present, like the railway, you enter vibrant neighbourhoods.
The lack of programmatic diversity is clear within the heart of the North District. This proposal will focus on how we can bring this diversity, both programmatic, cultural, and social, present on the borders of the north district into the WTC III high-rise.
By implementing a variety of programmes within the structure, including residential (alike to the land use diagrams from Ixelles and Schaerbeek), I plan to rebuild a successful community within the WTC III. This thesis recognises the use of the arts as a programme which spans cultures and languages. This project will intertwine the arts with programmes which are found on vibrant streets, and shown in these land use drawings, to create a successful community within the WTT III.
The existing tower and plinth will house the more functional programmes found on the street. These will be the programmes of ‘necessity’ like a school, shops, places of work, post office and gyms etc. The new build will house the ‘leisure’ activities as well as the larger arts programmes. It will also house the other types of accommodation within the roofscapes, temporary housing, hostel rooms and a hotel.
The diverse range of housing (permanent, temporary, hostel and hotel) will assist the structure in providing for a diverse range of people. Indeed, utilising the vacant office space in the North District could solve the housing crisis.
I felt Brussels had a particularly successful street typology which utilises street activity daily. Outdoor interaction along boulevards, gathering in large public spaces and the clever use of courtyard space within the urban block all encouraged interaction between Brussels inhabitants. This is something I feel the North District could benefit from when thinking about how to create in a new diverse community.
Creating a Vertical Streetscape
As you walk through the structure different moments of the Brussels urban grain have been designed into the circulation creating an experiential route through the building.
The Grand route is the main mode of circulation through the structure. The street menders through a diverse range of programmes including the arts before reaching the very top where there is a large flexible open-span space.
The arts act as separate ‘town centres’ and can be reached easily by lift. Furthermore, every designed space is accessible by lift.
Public spaces are designed within the route occurring at specific levels to allow views over the city and spaces of gathering. Moreover, the roof of the larger arts spaces will provide moments of relief along the route in the form of open green space.
Embedding the Mass
Embedding the larger arts spaces has many benefits. Benefits include, providing acoustic separation from the other programmes which surround the arts spaces and creating an immersive experience.
Embedding the lager arts spaces within the urban skin allows for the perimeter of the scheme to be lined with lighter active programmes.
Activating the Street
A light polycarbonate facade enables the structure to light-up internally throughout the day and externally during the night. Positioning the more active, vibrant, ‘city’ programmes towards the perimeter of the scheme helps activate the facade facing the main Boulevard Roi Alebrt III, strengthening the buildings link to the city centre.
Celebrating the Street
The Brussels street is celebrated throughout the scheme. The design proposal creates moments of interaction and activity which are commonly found along the streets of Brussels to help re-activate the currently under utilised North District.