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Brussels plans extensive redevelopment of North District

Brussels Gare du Nord and surrounding area (Wikimedia Collective Commons)
08:22 21/02/2022

More than 40 public and private projects should make the North District of Brussels a more liveable and greener area over the next 10 years, making it more connected to the rest of the city and diversifying the business-orientated landscape that it has become.

On 16 February, Brussels State Secretary Pascal Smet hosted an information session with Brussels Minister President Rudi Vervoort and the planning department to show how the capital wants to enliven the monofunctional North District. 'Territory North' comprises some 40 public and private projects that will bring more life, greenery, culture and connectedness to the district over the next decade.

"What happened in the North District in the 50s and 60s is an incredible urban planning mistake that was based on a poorly understood modernism and on the idea that the future would mainly belong to the car and large office buildings," said Pascal Smet. "Humanity was almost completely forgotten."

"It is the will of Rudi Vervoort and I, as well as the government as a whole, to correct these mistakes of the past."

Public consultation

Territory North consists of the neighbourhoods of Manhattan, Brabant, Masui, Saint-Roch and Saint-Lazare. From 18 January to 6 March next year, a public consultation will take place to further refine the vision which will lead to the evolution of the district. The intention is to approve the building permits before the summer of 2024, according to the State Secretary.

Changes are already afoot. While the WTC I and II towers are gradually making way for the ZIN project, a fourth tower is being built at the same time. This will also be an office tower, which would share the same footprint as WTC III, but according to State Secretary Smet, the new tower, entirely in accordance with the vision of the revaluation of the district, would also contain homes. In 2017, a permit was already given for the tower without homes, but it will be revised, according to Smet.

That revision still needs to be negotiated. At the beginning of February, developer Befimmo submitted a building permit for an office tower, without housing. It would have 28 floors, with a rooftop terrace on the third floor of 6,000 square meters. At street level, there is room for businesses, cafes and shops, "to create more interaction with the city," says Cédric Mali, Chief Commercial Officer of Befimmo.

Changes afoot for North Station

Elsewhere, changes are planned for the area around Gare du Nord. The CCN building will disappear, and a new building will take its place.

The final design of the new building and the neighbourhood around Gare du Nord is not yet complete, but according to Smet, there will be at least three new squares around the station. Moreover, the new building that replaces the CCN building will no longer be 'attached' to the station. A street will separate the buildings. The stairs that give access to the station from the outside would also disappear, and the platforms would be directly accessible from the ground floor.

While there are no concrete plans as yet, it is thought that the three new squares would be located at the station towards the city centre and Rogier, north of the station and towards Tour & Taxis. The intention is that these squares will become 'more active' than the current ones, with cafés and restaurants.

Art on public display

The region is also in talks with Belfius and Proximus to make their art collections public. Since Proximus will soon be selling a lot of its office space in the district, it's also necessary to look for a place for its internationally recognised collection of 600 works of art. Proximus is looking at various options, such as making the collection public or collaborating with a museum.

Belfius also wants to make its art collection more accessible. Currently there is an exhibition on the 32nd floor of its head office on Place Rogier, but it can only be visited one Saturday a month. According to a spokesperson for the bank, the intention is that the collection will soon be open to the public every weekend.

Mixing office space with housing

The Ferraris building, one of the glass towers in the Manhattan district, should also be given a new mixed function, according to the Brussels region.

The building is still currently owned by the Flemish Government. In 2023, the hundreds of Flemish civil servants who work there should move to the current WTC I and II towers, which form the new ZIN project. The building will therefore be sold by 2024, according to the spokesperson for Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon.

On the Chaussée d'Anvers, 14social owner-occupied homes will also be built on community land, as part of Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB) project. The project is 90% complete, said a CLTB spokesperson. The public inquiry was completed in November and is now waiting for the approval of the consultation committee.

CLTB is committed to enabling affordable housing by developing housing on land that remains owned by the community.

New green spaces

The ambitious redevelopment of the Maximilian Park, including a new petting zoo, is one of the projects that should make the district greener. In addition, new green spaces will be created through the Becopark on the canal that is being constructed, and the new Albert Park, where part of the Boulevard du Roi Albert II will be transformed into a park. In the heart of the Manhattan district, Boulevard Simon Bolivar is also being made greener.

Multi-purpose buildings

The region hopes to get rid of the mono-functionality of the North District and wants buildings with mixed functions everywhere, especially in the Manhattan district. The office, residential and hotel complex called ZIN, which replaces the WTC towers, should be a step in the right direction. The Victoria Tower in Saint-Josse is also being renovated into a hotel and offices, with a rooftop area.

Canal Wharf I with 132 apartments on the Quai des Péniches has already been built. Canal Warf phase two is still under development and should provide another 121 apartments when completed.

The Proximus towers are also being overhauled, after Proximus decided last year to sell the two towers in the North District. Proximus' offices will be merged into one of the two towers, the other tower will be transformed into a building with apartments, a hotel, student housing, shops and sports facilities.

Elsewhere, the fire station on Avenue de l'Héliport is also being considered for redevelopment as is the former Ferme des Boues on the Quai de Willebroeck, which is currently the headquarters of a number of city services, such as Bruxelles-Propreté.

"It has been completely misused,” said Pascal Smet of the building on Quai de Willebroeck. “The Ferme des Boues has an incredible potential for housing and other activities."

New police centre

The region also has plans for the police academy of the Brussels-Capital-Ixelles zone on Boulevard du Roi Albert II. Within a few years, the police will relocate to a new centre in the former Dexia building. The region has not yet decided whether the old academy will be demolished or renovated.

Future expansion and improved public transport 

In addition to the two art collections of Belfius and Proximus, the cultural expansion of the North District will include the construction of a new contemporary museum Kanal - Centre Pompidou, a new concert hall for Magasin 4, and the upgrading of the Kaaitheater.

It's also planned for the Avenue de l'Héliport and the Place Saint-Lazare to be redeveloped. The first phase next to the Victoria Tower is almost complete, and a new phase is starting: the construction of the public space located between the Iris Tower and the Rue de Brabant. In addition, it has already been announced that there will be a new sports centre built alongside the canal.

To better connect the neighbourhoods with each other and the city centre, there will be a new tram line from Tour et Taxis, along the Brabant quarter, to Central Station and a new metro 3 from Evere to Saint-Gilles.

Written by Nick Amies