The post-industrial canal area of Brussels, Belgium is about to get a spectacular rebirth

In Brussels, Belgium, a post-industrial neighborhood is about to be reborn in a spectacular manner, via a project called “Key West.”

Brussels Canal. Photo by Aktron / Wikimedia

The redesign and revitalization plan by Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen Architects will renew the old industrial properties, repurpose them as rooftop gardens and co-working spaces with rooftop gardens, and reconnect the entire neighborhood to its canal waterfront.

In other words, it’s another great example of the 3Re Strategy (repurpose, renew, reconnect) at work.

The Key West urban redevelopment project in the Brussels Canal Zone is designed to bring Scandinavian-style socio-economic cohesion to a challenged area.

As many other European cities, Brussels has shifted away from heavy industry to a post-industrial economy. It is now in the process of redeveloping old industrial areas shifting its city center towards the Canal Zone.

The Canal Plan initiated by the Government of Brussels is the largest urban redevelopment in the Brussels Region. The Key West redevelopment will link Anderlecht and the city west of the canal closer to central Brussels, while bringing spatial and social cohesion to a challenged (many would say “distressed”) area.

The regeneration plan balances urban and recreational life along the canal containing a rich mix of 46.000 square meters of new housing, plus 17.000 square meters of a mix of schools, sports and production facilities. This will all be alongside urban farming and generous new public spaces.

We were inspired by the Government of Brussels’ ambitions to tap into the spirit of the old industrial area by introducing ‘second generation industries’ ─ local production facilities such as e.g. microbreweries, a cookie factory, coffee roasting facilities. As architects involved in urban planning one of our most distinguished tasks is to create the physical framework for an area like Key West to regain economic growth and community cohesion,” says Partner at Henning Larsen, Jacob Kurek.

Key West will extend the existing canal system, interlacing the area with a new water basin to make urban waterfront living accessible to far more people. By adding rainwater collection and regenerating the native biotope of the basin, the water quality for the entire adjacent canal system will be restored. This approach also makes it attractive to use the waterfront for community strengthening activities such as kayaking or social events.

From Copenhagen Harbor, we know how waterfronts are very powerful attractors when it comes to creating public life in a city. It gives an immense quality of life to feel a connection to nature in a city center. When you give people attractive places to meet a sense community is naturally strengthened,” Kurek added.

Throughout the Key West regeneration area, the ground floor of buildings is activated by public functions and retail, designed to create life at street level. As one strolls through Key West, the inner courtyards and urban farming on roofs will appear as small secret gardens for relaxation overlooking both the city and canals. A large south facing town square by the main canal will serve as a natural public gathering point.

It’s connected to a Market Hall designed as a flexible space with moveable glass facades.

The town square will become an attractive space for local events, flea markets as well as selling local produce from the Key West rooftop farms ─ tying a holistic loop from earth to table.

The residential portion of Key West is located above the public functions, thus creating a variety of heights, depths, and massing. In this way, the designers have been able to offer a rich variety of studios and 1-3 room apartments, as well as introducing a new typology to the area: co-housing, with large 8-9 bedroom apartments for shared living.

Key West is being developed by Henning Larsen Architects for their client, BPI, in collaboration with Belgium-based Architects A2RC. The project is expected to be complete by the end of 2022.

See Henning Larsen website.

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