CLIENT                European parliament
YEAR                    2016
LOCATION           Brussels, Belgium
PUBLICATION      World landscape architecture CO AUTHORS      Emiel Swinnen, Joachim Mertens, Jaron Vanooteghem

TAGS                   Urbanism, Large, Image

- Activating a non-space by defining new borders existing of inaccessible urban nature -

Today the esplanade in front of the European Parliament in Brussels is more of a non-space than a connecting axis or an enjoyable place to stay. The square seems to be searching for an identity it never has had, due to the lack of interaction between open and built space. The open space does not cause this problem, but the boundaries do. A massive barrier of blind facades clad with dark stones, followed by reflecting glass fronts, rejects every possible interaction between the offices and the emptiness they overlook.

Within the framework of Brussels 2040, Bureau Bas Smets searched for the interrelations in the landscape, in order to conclude that over the past decades a balance can not be found anymore. Valleys, rivers and nature seem to be chaotic and fragmented. Brussels has to start reading its own original landscape and its corresponding topography, hydrology and characteristic vegetation. The esplanade plays a big part in this story due to its unique location within the Maalbeekvalley. The hortus inversus can work exemplary: while proving the lost nature is worth restoring, it can also strengthen the natural landscape in the metropolitan area of Brussels in the future.

The intervention arises from a dualistic movement. As the central part remains open, the border gets redefined which creates an inaccessible space. A white wall artificially separates both worlds: it embodies the contrast between landscape and public space. This radical fracture prevents any human interference, therefore native fauna and flora can flourish untouched. This allows nature to take its course, where, in contradiction to the accessible space, the process is more important than the final project.

The wall provides space were fauna and flora can flourish and converges to a self-sustainable ecosystem. By providing voids and using the topography, this urban jungle gets accesible for native wild live. The parlementarium and next door offices are enclosed by rare types greenery, enhancing the working environment as well as the existing ecosystem. The design is enhanced by a maze of intermediate areas where there is a notion of nature. These in-between places are meant to hide, to meet or just to simply do nothing.

© Studio Narra 2021