Brussels is a city of office towers. The shiny glass and marble towers have offered space to governments, banks and all kinds of firms. The office patrimony of Brussels testifies of 20th Century progress, of economic and urban growth. Equally it testifies of displacement of communities, destruction of historic urban tissues and of the establishment of a fossil fuel addicted, suburban commuting culture.
Office buildings in Brussels are contested, but what if we use them differently?
As office buildings are being obsoleted after serving their lifetime, they become the subject of contemporary urban renewal. Many of them are being renovated, transformed to host more diverse programmes, which include housing. The transformations fit in new visions of urban life in Brussels and aim to make it a liveable city. Current-day competition briefs interrelate new dwellings in the city with more healthy lifestyles with lower carbon footprints.
Which are valid, honest, and functional concepts that improve the quality of the city in a sustainable manner?
Architects face the challenge to facilitate people in developing sustainable, healthy lifestyles in existing buildings. The building envelope is key. As architects, we need to develop our expertise to make feasible concepts, and to avoid concepts that are superficial greenwashing.
The building envelope should be more than a physical protection with an appealing aesthetic. We propose to use it as a zone which connects the interior to the exterior, and which gives space to the elements that make a city healthier. Think about outdoor and semi-outdoor spaces that service the individual, the collective, and the entire community.
What if the envelope contributes to social interaction, energy collection, climate adaptation, plant cultivation, and so forth?