The ‘60s high-rise slab, standing perpendicular to the street, was a rare modernist insertion into the former Brussels’ trading port. Originally built as an office block, it suffered years of neglect. When the real estate developer Besix Red launched a competition for the building’s refurbishment, only the two lowest floors were used by a polyclinic. The proximity of Brussel’s Canal Zone and North railway station provided the impetus for redeveloping the building’s office spaces into 130 comfortable dwellings ranging from compact studio flats to generous three-bedroom apartments higher up, with unique views to the east and west. The building is now a mixed-use property: the first two floors contain 1.500 m² of commercial/office space. At the south-east corner of the site, a new building with 26 dwellings was added to mark the volumetric transition between the high-rise and the neighbouring row of houses. The underground parking connects both buildings and features 170 cycle parking spaces. The project relies on a soft mobility concept to go far beyond regulations and significantly reduce the number of parking spaces from more than 150 to 50.
The Cosmopolitan shows that an inventive strategy of targeted adjustments - both in-depth and on the surface - can give a new lease of life to buildings from the post-war building boom era and help improve the quality of life in a densely populated, diverse city.
The design strategy is based on a critical review of the modernist insertion with no direct access to the street, as well as on an analysis of the potential of the existing load-bearing frame. The existing grey façade was removed, exposing the concrete skeleton. Following a rigorous and precise reinforcement of the framework, the building was extended by adding three floors, which emphasises the slim silhouette. The preservation of the existing structure offers unique ceiling heights of more than three metres in all units.
On the West and East façades, a new slice of generously sized balconies nestles in a secondary lightweight steel structure, binding it all together from top to bottom. The double‑height access hall provides a visual extension to the exterior space. Two rows of double-height arcades running along the public lower floors give definition to the sheltered pedestrian path crossing the property. Consequently, the entrance of the building is brought to the street, anchoring the building in the urban fabric.
White aluminium sliding panels, subtly perforated, serve as a protection against sun and wind on the balconies, creating a permanent yet fluctuating play of light and shade that animates the façades and allows the building to become a landmark in Brussels’ skyline. The grids of balconies and speratation panels are supported, on the first two levels, by a colonnade of diagonal pillars. Both buildings, old and new, are clad with large panels made of lightly polished white natural stone aggregate that enhance the elegant appearance of the ensemble. Above ground, trees and a variety of high grasses turn the semi-public areas into a welcoming and attractive urban area.
1. Facade cladding: lightly polished white natural stone aggregate, STENI
2. Flooring: rubber floors in the collective corridors, Objectflor
3. Doors: entrance apartment doors, ERIBEL
4. Windows: Aluminium windows, PIERRET SYSTEME
5. Gutters integrated in balconies: Aco Drain
6. Sliding panels: Hunter Douglas
7. Exterior balustrades: TECTUM
8. Exterior lighting (in the balconies): Bel Lighting
9. Elevators: Schindler
10. Suspended ceilings in the collective corridors: Rockfon
11. Lining of the walls of collective corridors: VESCOM
12. Interior light-weight walls: Knauf
13. Sanitary equipment: Van Marcke
14. Kitchens: AL-AL