Usquare.brussels – bringing people, the city and knowledge together
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium
Conversion of a former barracks site into a new district combining heritage, sustainable development, circular economy and knowledge.
In 2018, the Brussels-Capital Region purchased a former military complex from the Belgian Federal State in order to:
- open it up to the city;
- promote heritage;
- develop family and student housing;
- provide welcoming and attractive public spaces;
- create local facilities for residents of neighbouring districts;
- accommodate a sustainable food court
- develop a pioneering project in partnership with the Université libre de Bruxelles and Vrij Universiteit Brussels (VUB-ULB) for research, knowledge dissemination and sharing, international collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation. Certain elements of which are supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Usquare.brussels the conversion of an enclosed, early 20th century military complex into an open and diverse space for 21st century living. While not a student campus, it is a future district of the city that will be diverse and dynamic, urban and welcoming, sustainable and innovative and centered around the universities.
This project has been chosen by Brussels Capital Region to be peer-reviewed in the frame of the Sustainable Cities Collaboratory: https://policytransfer.metropolis.org/news/sustainable-cities-collaboratory
Background and objectives
Launched in July 2014, the Brussels government policy statement for 2014-2019 marked interest in the former barracks site of Ixelles and its potential for development as an international student city.
In 2016, the Brussels-Capital Region commissioned a feasibility study for the conversion of the former barracks by the MSA-IDEA consultancy firm. This study evaluated the maximum development potential of a mixed-usage site which the government approved. The selected scenario proposed a mixed usage space with student housing as the central part of the development and the fringes populated by new residential developments.
The Brussels-Capital Region bought the site in early 2018. The last buildings occupied by the Police will be released in early 2019.
Simultaneously, in the framework of the partnership between the VUB-ULB universities, Funding was applied for and received from the European and Regional funding (ERDF Operational Program 2014-2020) to develop a joint project. The current ERDF project proposes a university center dedicated to sustainable development and public awareness activities, fundamental and participative research on the theme of sustainable development and eco-responsible consumption. This will help to foster the creation of local non-relocatable jobs and the development of Brussels 'start-ups'. Additionally, the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (PRDD) approved by the Brussels government in July 2018 recognizes this site as a priority development zone for the region
The barracks site will be converted into a new district with:
- 600 housing offerings for international students,
- 200 affordable housing offerings
- a residence for university researchers
- a student services counter
- a fab-lab / incubator for young entrepreneurs
- an inter-university research cluster for sustainable development
- an interpretation center presenting university research on sustainability,
- neighborhood facilities
- a cultural center
Brussels-Capital Region will develop the vision for the 3,85 hectares of the site, finance and supervise its conversion. Europe will co-finance the establishment of an inter-university cluster for sustainable development (ERDF program 2014-2020).
Brussels-Capital Region has undertaken to implement a new resilient planning approach by linking two new regional tools:
- Spatial planning tool called PAD (Plan d’Amenagement Director / Master Development Plan). This tool combines regulatory components with strategic ones. It is a flexible planning tool that can evolve over time and accommodate new uses and needs of residents, citizens and the universities.
- Circular Economy tool called PREC (Plan Regional d’Economy Circulaire- Regional Plan for Circular Economy). This tool has received two European awards for innovation by combining sectoral actions with territorial ones in order to implement this new economic model.
The Master Development Plan (PAD) defines the schedule, construction and design of roads and public spaces, heritage protection, and mobility and parking.
The “Barracks master plan” must follow certain procedural steps.
- Project design and environmental impact studies.
- Public consultation.
- Approval by the Regional Government of first draft of the plan.
- Recommendation of the Regional Development Commission (government consultative body).
- Approval of second draft of the plan by the government, including any modifications following the public consultation and the recommendation of official bodies including the Regional Development Commission.
- Submission of the project to the Council of State to ensure it complies with legal regulations.
- Approval of the third draft by the Government.
Once the master plan is approved, the implementation of the various components of Usquare can begin, provided the necessary building permits have been obtained.
The expected timing is as follows:
- From 2023: gradual development of public spaces on the site.
- By 2023: restoration and development of buildings that will house the universities and shared facilities.
- By 2025: renovation and construction work to accommodate student and family housing, as well as local facilities.
The draft master plan has been presented to citizens living around the location during 3 public meetings.
Financing and resources
- Brussels-Capital Region
- Perspective.brussels – The Brussels Planning Agency
- Société d’aménagement urbain (SAU-MSI) – The Brussels Urban Development Corporation
- Université libre de Bruxelles – The French-speaking free University of Brussels
- Vrij Universiteit Brussels – The Dutch-speaking free University of Brussels
- Europe through European Regional Development Funds
This project is the result of two proactive initiatives.
- Universities: ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and VUB (Vrij Universiteit Brussel) will become more integrated in the city and provide benefits for citizens and students and establish a new academic center of international importance.
- Brussels-Capital Region: will meet the needs of its citizens in terms of housing, social facilities and quality of life, while reinforcing its national and international status: Belgium's largest student city, leading university hub in Europe, national capital and international metropolis, a crossroads of cultures amid a plethora of initiatives in collective intelligence, research and innovation. The Regional Government believes that promoting these assets will increase the integration of the student population in the urban fabric of the city and encourage positive initiatives in the region that will be beneficial to its development and the citizens of Brussels.
Results and impacts
Too soon to mention results and impacts as the project is in its early development phase.
Barriers and challenges
One potential challenge is related to the acceptance of the project by neighboring residents.
Lessons learned and transferability
Too early to mention lessons-learnt as the project is in its early development phase.