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Mad about design: A new home for creative hub MAD Brussels

09:30 17/04/2017
The fashion and design centre, which has helped hundreds of people find work in the creative sectors, moves into a new home this week

After years of working out of temporary offices, Brussels' fashion and design hub MAD Brussels will open its new headquarters on the New Grain Market in the heart of the Dansaert district downtown this Friday (21 April).

The creative field is a growing and substantial sector of the Brussels economy. In 2012 it was already 6% of the salaried jobs in the region. Back in 2010, recognising its potential, the Brussels Region and the City of Brussels created Mode and Design Brussels (MAD Brussels) to stimulate this growth. It is the only European fashion and design platform that concentrates on four distinct areas: applied research and development, education, promotion and entrepreneurship.

"Design is very large," says MAD Brussels business and career director Elke Timmerman. "There is graphic design, fashion design, culinary design, urban design, textile design, object design, industrial design, and social design and we want to provide close, hands-on training to help creative jobseekers survive.

"We have created a network of 300 employers specialised in the fashion and design sectors and we have a three-person team who intensely coach jobseekers in these sectors. We also work to facilitate the establishment of design businesses."

With its staff of 20, MAD Brussels has already successfully shepherded 600 entrepreneurial projects and 400 jobseekers as well as having greeted 140,000 visitors to its various events and organised 35 seminars.

Complete reworking

The new centre is a complete reworking of three separate buildings with two different street façades. This was a difficult project and MAD Brussels chose local architect firm V+, known for their original thinking. One of the firm's more celebrated projects was the Pavillon du Bonheur, a temporary structure at the foot of the Atomium which took the most humble of objects, the plastic beer case, and used 33,000 of them to make a building which was as soaring and uplifting as the grandest of cathedrals.

For the MAD Brussels project, to make a coherent whole of the original elements, Jörn Bihain, co-founder of V+, had to come at the problem from different directions.

"First off, we had to reinforcrce each building, each had to have its own quality, personality, that's one strategy," he says. "The second was to make a relationship between them, create windows to see through, to make connections, and the third was playing with the materials, the catalogue of different kinds of white, paint and materials, that all together made the whole project like an organism."

The ground floor will be devoted to the public sphere, exhibitions, events and seminars. The upper floors will be devoted to creative work spaces and offices. In addition, there are four rent-controlled housing units as part of the project.

All the furniture and furnishings are Belgian (and especially Brussels) products chosen by Kelly Claessens of La Fabrika, which has become a citywide reference for classic as well up-and-coming design.

The new buidlings will be inaugurated on 21 April with an exhibition that will "speak of design in all its dimensions, inspirations, influences, history and future possibilities".

Written by Richard Harris