ADAPTIVE RE-USE FOR 156 DWELLINGS AND 2 LEVELS OF OFFICES IN THE CENTER OF BRUSSELS | INVITED COMPETITION ORGANISED BY THE CLIENT, 1ST PLACE
AWARDS Nominated for the EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2022
The ‘60s high-rise slab, standing perpendicular to the street, was a rare modernist insertion into the former Brussels’ trading port composed of late XIXth-century warehouses. Originally built as an office block, it suffered years of neglect. The proximity of Brussel’s Canal Zone and North railway station provided the impetus for redeveloping the building’s office spaces into 130 comfortable housing units ranging from compact studio flats to generous three-bedroom apartments higher up, with unique east and west views. At the south-east corner of the site, a new building with 26 dwellings was added to mark the volumetric transition between the high-rise and the neighbouring row of houses. The underground parking connects both buildings and features 170 cycle parking spaces. The project relies on a soft mobility concept to go far beyond regulations and significantly reduce the number of parking spaces from more than 150 to 50.
The design strategy is based on a critical review of the modernist insertion with no direct access to the street, as well as on an analysis of the potential of the existing load-bearing frame. The existing grey façade was removed, exposing the concrete skeleton. Following a rigorous and precise reinforcement of the framework, the building was extended by adding three floors, which emphasises the slim silhouette. The preservation of the existing structure offers unique ceiling heights of more than three metres in all units.
On the west and east façades, from the second floor on, the lightweight secondary steel structure is composed of a grid containing generous balconies. White perforated sliding panels serve as a protection against sun and wind, creating a permanent yet fluctuating play of light and shade that animates the façades that have become a landmark in Brussels’ skyline.
The double‑height access hall provides a visual extension to the exterior space. Two rows of double-height arcades running along the public lower floors define the sheltered pedestrian path crossing the property. Consequently, the entrance of the building is brought to the street, anchoring the building in the urban fabric.
The Cosmopolitan is not only a forerunner of urban renewal in a long-neglected area of Brussels. It also shows that an inventive strategy of targeted adjustments — both in-depth and on the surface — can give a new lease of life to buildings from the post-war building boom era and help improve the quality of life in a densely populated, diverse city.