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(19-20) Mutation of a Metropolis

Research by design on one of the transformations of the centre of Brussels metropolis
Design studio OPO 14 Master of Science in Architecture
Academic year 2019-20, semester 1, Brussels
15 ECTS credits

Studio instructor: architect-urbanist M.Sc. in conservation Livia de Bethune
Engagement: Urban Cultures


The appropriation of the place de la Bourse on a warm evening, before rehabilitation

Driven by a bottom up movement the center of Brussels undergoes since a few years a real mutation. One of the important elements of this change is reconstruction of the central boulevards, laid out in the 19th century, that turned into a city highway in the second half of the 20th century. The works, between De Brouckère square and Fontainas square, are coming to an end. An interesting moment to observe and evaluate on the one hand the impact of the new organization and landscaping design of the avenues, and on the other hand to ask how to deal with the contiguous part of the central avenues towards the midi station1, which has not yet been addressed.

1 Since the Station Brussels Midi is for many new comers the first image they got of Brussels, with around 60 000 passengers a day taking a national of international train, it’s essential to qualify not only the station infrastructure itself but also the surrounding and especially the transition space towards the city centre.

Mobility has evolved considerably in recent years. Under the influence of various elements that all point in line with the same trend:
– increased attention to health (demand for clean air, interest in more exercise, jogging, cycling, etc.)
– adjustment of habits through an awareness of climate change
– the new technology (the accessibility of electrically powered small vehicles, scooters, electric bicycles, wheels, etc.)
– the growing sharing economy (velib, uber bicycles, sharing scooters, …)
– the increasing traffic pressure (congestion inside and outside the city, the higher parking costs, etc.)
– the range of multifunctional and safer facilities of public spaces in the city (cycle paths, shared spaces, extensed pedestrian areas, etc.)
– the more recent quality public space design, where it is more pleasant to spend time (more benches, more terraces, more greenery, more …)
– a participatory approach for the development of public space establishments and city organizations, based on a strong tradition in Brussels
– A growing and diverse population (rising housing density, young population, …)

This trend has been particularly noticed in Brussels in recent years. (A city that lingered for a long time in the functionalist ideology.) This current rapid evolution makes of the metropolis an interesting research case, Brussels as a laboratory.
In addition, there is a growing demand for a more livable city with a high life quality, (with better air quality, less noise nuisance, …) including the more vulnerable (children, the elderly, people with disabilities, etc.)
How do people give city dwellers the qualities they have sought for decades in the green periphery? How does one create a city where there are different customs and residents, a city center where one finds a balance between the economic opportunities that a historic city center offers on the one hand and an actual quality of living for important and diverse populations in a dense urban context, on the other hand ? A quality of life both indoors and in the public space.

Phase 1 (4 weeks)
In a first phase we will observe, report, decode and understand on site (in situ), using different methods :
– Observation through different methods, based on international literature (William Whyte – The social life of small urban spaces, Bill Hillier & Juliette Hanson – Space Syntax, Jan Gehl, Richard Sennett – Building and Dwelling : Ethics for the City…)
– Completed with conferences and study work of Brussels (Brussels Centre Observatory, …)
– And comparative analysis of other public spaces (from own country or Belgium)

Phase 2 (6 weeks)
In a second phase, the students develop proposals for the contiguous part of the central avenues, towards the south station and for the contiguous building plots. Taking into account the new public space design, one can also expect a growing real estate pressure on the neighborhoods. How should we deal with places like the Palais du Midi, or the narrow building blocks between place Anneessens & Rue des Foulons & Rue de la Caserne or between Place Fontainas & Rue de Soignies & Rue des Moucherons. How can you generate there better living quality for the current population of this popular city quarters ?
During the design process, special attention will be given to 3-dimensional design and working with sections.
In a dense metropolis, where every square metre is valuable, one should be very careful. These structures and spaces are an opportunity to give them new meaning for Brussels. Taking into account :
– the urgency in the area of climate change
– the demand for a greener and more liveable city
– the current insights in the area of mobility
– the further constant population growth in the Brussels region
– the need to broaden the housing supply
– the multi-layered urban environment with an important underground life (car parks, metro infrastructure, etc.), public space that need the same attention as the above-ground space


First review – 23-10-2019: Thematic focus A3-panels & PPT presentation, for each team
Results of phase 1
Midterm review – 23-11-2019: Presentation of (different scenarios) of the design concepts for the public space an adjacent building blocks,
through section (1/500 – 1/200) and work models
Final review – 08-01-2020: PPT presentation,
global plan (1/1000 or 1/500) showing the vision on the quarter,
global sections (1/500 – 1/200)
plans of (1/200 of 1/100),
sections (1/100 of 1/50),
model(s) of the architectural & public space project (1/500 & 1/200),
complementary 3D drawings
Above all the submitted material should give you the chance to explain your project in a convincing way.
(Note : The original INDD format with all links will be submitted )

Evaluation Criteria

Ability to reflect and develop a project within a given complex environment and multiple societal and technical parameters, encompassing the urban and architectural scale.
Ability to express and communicate research findings to third (professional) parties.
Ability to employ research & design methodologies and synthesize findings into a coherent project.
Ability to incorporate theory and input from other disciplines into the overall proposal.
Ability to operate within a team, give proof of individual performance and maturity within the given context of the assignment.


Development of reflection about the meaning of transformation in an actual urban context.
Development of an approach towards public space
Development of an integral approach urban renewal in a complex urban context in mutation.
Development of individual architectural research into high level projects, giving proof of sufficient insight in the technical feasibility and social cohesion of the proposed design
Interdisciplinary collaboration within an international team