ERDF
Current view of the buildings and the courtyard
The site of the former National Gendarmerie Academy, a future multifunctional and sustainable district in Brussels.

European Week of Regions and Cities: the European media discover the Usquare.brussels project

In October 2020, the Brussels-Capital Region (BRC) participated in the European Week of Regions and Cities. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this 18th edition was largely a virtual edition, taking place over a three-week period.

Announcement of the 18th European Week of Regions and Cities

 

Despite the pandemic, Brussels International invited European journalists to discover Brussels projects that were implemented with the support of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), in close collaboration with DG REGIO of the European Commission and the EU’s Assembly of Regional and Local Representatives.

As this year’s edition revolved around the “Green Europe” theme, we chose to present two projects, namely Usquare.brussels and the sustainable swimming pool of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The visit of Usquare.brussels was the only visit to go ahead as scheduled, and was attended by a dozen journalists, rather than the 60 who had originally been invited.

 

Usquare.brussels, an ambitious sustainable development project

Usquare.brussels is the BCR’s project for the redevelopment of the former National Gendarmerie Academy into a multifunctional and sustainable district. It wants to be a model district, both at the technical level (circular economy, energy performance, heritage, …) and in terms of living together (collective projects, solidarity, …). The project which was developed by the Urban Development Corporation (SAU-MSI), the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), received ERDF support to the tune of 11,8 million euros, on a total investment of 24,3 million euros. This investment will facilitate the renovation of several buildings, over an area of 10,000 m2. The energy consumption of these buildings will be reduced by 3,000 tons of CO2 a year.

 

Press conference in the Horse Barracks

On 14 October, the journalists were received in the Manège building or Horse Barracks by Bruno Allardin, who is the project leader at SAU-MSI. This regional public body, which is responsible for the implementation of major Brussels urban development projects, is tasked with managing the site’s development. “Renamed Usquare.brussels, this former walled barracks will be transformed into an open site, that will bring life and warmth to the neighbourhood. This project will contribute to enhancing the site’s heritage and the circular economy strategy, two essential aspects in the development of Usquare.brussels”, Bruno Allardin explained. The SAU-MSI is also responsible for the renovation and reconversion of the horse barracks into a sustainable food hall.

Cassio Lopes, who is the project manager at the ULB, then took the floor on behalf of the ULB and the VUB. He highlighted the international dimension of Usquare.brussels and the desire of these two Brussels universities to set an example with this project. “The ULB and the VUB are further concretising their partnership dynamic on the Usquare.brussels site, at the service of Brussels and its inhabitants. Thanks to the support of the ERDF, our two universities will be able to develop research centres on this site, focussing on sustainable development to provide a response to the many challenges we face in urban areas. The site will also become home to hundreds of international students, becoming a reception centre and a hub of cultural diversity.”

Seated journalists in the large interior space of the Manège building.
Press conference in the Manège building of Usquare.brussels.
 
Journalists on the upper floor of the building, view of the corridor and the staircase.
Site visit of Usquare.brussels with journalists.

 

Visit of the university hub project

A site visit, organised in two groups, gave journalists the opportunity to discover the buildings of the innovative university hub project of the VUB and the ULB. It highlighted the innovative approach of circularity, based on the principles of recovery, transformation, and re-use of materials.

 

Meeting the people of See U, a temporary occupant of the site

Finally the journalists were able to see first-hand how See U uses the site, under a temporary occupancy scheme, by meeting their field workers and enjoying a lunch that was prepared on-site in this setting by Place aux plantes, a recently-founded company.

Two people prepare lunch boxes in a designer kitchen.
Place aux plantes, a catering company as part of the temporary occupancy of Usquare.brussels.