The Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region, Rudi Vervoort, expressed his delight that ‘Usquare.brussels, the transformation of the former Fritz Toussaint barracks in Ixelles into an open, mixed and multifunctional district, has taken several important steps forward in recent weeks. These relate in particular to the site’s most iconic building and its public spaces.’
In September, the Urban Development Corporation (SAU), which is coordinating all conversion work on the barracks and managing some of the phases itself, started renovating the shell of the barracks’ old Riding School. The work is due to be completed by the end of 2023, and the 1,600 m² building will become a sustainable food court. The SAU will launch a public procurement process in autumn 2023 to appoint its operator. The food court will eventually be one of the flagship elements of Usquare.brussels and a very useful shared facility for residents of the neighbouring districts.
At the end of August, the SAU also obtained planning permission for the overhaul and adaptation of all utilities (water, gas, electricity, telecoms, sewers), the development of an underground heating system relying in particular on the creation of deep geothermal fields, and the redevelopment of public spaces. The work will begin in spring 2023 and be coordinated closely with the progress of the successive building conversion projects.
In a few weeks’ time, the SAU will also finish the dismantling of the old prefabricated premises, after Beliris has completed the asbestos removal operation.
Meanwhile, the conversion work on the six buildings on Boulevard Général Jacques started by ULB and VUB in January is moving ahead rapidly. The objective is to create a university hub shared by the two universities by the beginning of 2024. The site’s owner, the Brussels Region, has granted them a long lease on these six buildings.
Gilles Delforge, the director of the Urban Development Corporation (SAU), explained that ‘These various projects will be followed before 2028 by a number of other stages in the site’s transformation, including the construction of family housing by the SLRB-BGHM and citydev.brussels and the creation of student accommodation. The SAU has issued a public procurement notice for the development of around 480 student accommodation units. The process is being conducted in partnership with the universities ULB and VUB, which will rent out the units at affordable prices. The contract should be awarded in the summer of 2023.’
Transitional activities: the inauguration of the ‘Usquare.brussels QG’
As Gilles Delforge also emphasised: ‘As it undertook to do last spring during the site visit with the media, the SAU has sought – and found – a way of preserving the collective, open approach that led to the success of the temporary occupation programme See U from spring 2019 to summer 2022. At the end of May, the SAU launched a public procurement process in order to appoint a service provider to organise the hosting of a smaller number of transitional creative, cultural, social and other activities and to maintain the links created in recent years with local residents in the area around the old barracks and more broadly with the inhabitants of Brussels, for example through visits to the construction sites. Pali pali has won this contract. Although its activities will take place in a limited area as the construction work picks up speed, I am convinced that this final transitional phase of Usquare.brussels will be a success.’
Pali pali’s director, Edouard Meier, expressed ‘delight at the prospect of continuing to support the Usquare.brussels project in this new phase. Our task will be to run a community of some thirty occupants (social and cultural projects), organise site support activities for local residents and the people of Brussels in general, keep track of the projects of the local committee Meet U, and manage the “Usquare.brussels QG”.’ He explained: ‘The “Usquare.brussels QG” will be a space dedicated to sustainable food (including a canteen and a cooperative supermarket), events, workshops and so on. An inaugural weekend is scheduled for 11, 12 and 13 November. More details: https://www.facebook.com/events/503063601706907/?ref=newsfeed
- Practical details: as work is in progress on the site, public access to the activities taking place there is exclusively via Avenue de la Couronne:
- 227 for the Usquare.brussels HQ and the ULB-VUB fab labs;
- 221 for the Meet U local committee.
University, regional, federal and European funding
The conversion of the first seven buildings on the site by the universities and the SAU (the six on Boulevard Général Jacques plus the Riding School) is being made possible by a large European subsidy, supplemented by additional budgets provided by the two universities and by the Brussels-Capital Region. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is contributing 1,391,398.10 euros for the conversion of the Riding School and 9,033,200 euros for the conversion of the buildings on Boulevard Général Jacques. The ERDF is supporting this project on the basis of its environmental ambitions, as it will lead to the creation of a research centre specialising in sustainable development issues, a sustainable development visitor centre linked to the research centre, the Brussels Institute for Advanced Studies (BIAS) specialising in sustainable development, and a sustainable food court.
BELIRIS has contributed more than 2 million euros to the removal of asbestos from the buildings.
In addition, the focus on the reuse of construction materials and on new circular economy practices in this project gained it a be.exemplary subsidy in 2019 (325,000 euros for special studies and work).