Vincent Callebaut proposes a “sustainable facelift” to the early 1900s warehouses at Belgium’s former industrial site known as “Tour & Taxis”. The architect’s masterplan transforms the 40-hectare post-industrial site into a mixed-use eco-neighbourhood along the Brussels canal.
Built between 1902 and 1907, Tour & Taxis was a large customs clearance and storage complex surrounding a train station and port, in Brussels. During most part of the 20th century it was Europe’s central hub for the transit of people and goods, but lost its relevance with the progressive lifting of internal border controls within the Schengen area.
Today, the site is undergoing an urban renovation process with the century-old warehouses being repurposed as offices, exhibition venues, restaurants and shops.
Callebaut’s masterplan is in line with this renewal and expands on it by creating an energy self-sufficient eco-neighbourhood that provides additional retail, office spaces and residences to the site. His futuristic project focuses on two main areas: the rehabilitation of the Gare Maritime, which was a former marine terminal for the transit of merchandise, and the construction of three residential “vertical forests” facing a large pond.
For the 40,000-square meter (430,000 square feet) vacant Gare Maritime, Callebaut proposes the creation of a BIOCAMPUS full of vegetation and water. Different types of flexible and modular structures would fill in the five parallel naves, providing an individual architecture identity for each of them.
On the western nave, the “waves” would include retail on the ground level and open-space offices on the upper floors, while the “containers” on the eastern nave would offer leisure space on the ground floor, with offices and a hotel on the floors above.
“Boat hulls” on the central nave would act as idea labs for meetings and brainstorming sessions, and the “Geodesic domes” on the two median naves would host restaurants, bars as well as sports and leisure facilities.
Callebaut resorts to biomimetics as an inspiration for the design of the structures, which would be developed using bio-sourced materials, such as solid wood and cross-laminated timber (CLT), in contrast with the wrought iron of the original construction. Not only would it help to reduce the building’s carbon footprint, but also add warmth and comfort to the space.
All structures within the gare would be completely detached from the existing building and facades, which would allow for them to be moved at any time. Bicycle paths would link the different spaces on the ground level, while above, three-perched footbridges would offer unique views of the wrought iron floral motifs designed by the railways’ chief engineer Frédéric Brunneel, in the beginning of the 20th century.
Three residential buildings, separated by gardens, would sit across the Gare Maritime, totalling a 85,000 square meter- (915,000 square feet-) area of multiple-scale housing units and convenience stores. The development, called Vertical Forests, would include individual homes with private food gardens and community orchards, combining the advantages of both rural and urban living. Large curvy rooftops, covered with solar panels, would offer views of the Brussels historic centre and the Koekelberg basilica.
The whole energy-plus development was designed to generate more energy than its annual needs, by incorporating the concepts of bioclimatism and cutting edge renewable energies including rainwater harvesting, earth-air heat exchangers for natural ventilation, evapotranspiration gardens, biomass cogeneration, geothermal stations, wind farm, solar and heat energy roofs, and facades made of silicon cells. Surplus energy would be redistributed to the surrounding historical buildings and future housing units in real time.
Callebaut’s design also prioritizes non-motorized vehicles and is in line with his vision to bring European cities to a post-carbon, circular and interdependent future.