Fifth LafargeHolcim Awards

73 The formerly bustling canal district gradually declined, and those who could afford to move away did. Symptomatic for the change of a previously flourishing district into a post-in- dustrial no-go area is Molenbeek. In recent years, Molenbeek has repeatedly been in the headlines as a hideout for terrorists. The migrant riots of 1991 made it clear how dire the need for action had become. Ever since then, there have been numerous attempts to upgrade the run-down districts of Brussels and to break the vicious circle of infrastructure deterioration, unemployment, and crime. The most significant and to date most successful action plan is the Canal Master Plan, launched in 2012 by the gov- ernment of the Brussels-Capital Region. It pursues multiple targets in the Canal Zone. First, economic activity should be preserved and better integrated into the urban context. Second, new housing of all types should be built in response to the strong population growth. Third, attractive public spaces along the canal should be built to enhance the district. And fourth, especially in this zone, Brussels should prove to be an open city with a diverse mix of citizens and uses. A good mix is considered an essential pillar of sustainable development. These goals are being pursued through a number of individual projects being conduct- ed jointly by the public and private sectors. The plan focuses on an area of 700 hectares, of which 300 hectares is in public hands. The government has put together a team that is driving the implementation of the plan with other government agencies, the private sector, and the business community. Head of the overall revitalization since 2014 is the city’s chief architect Kristiaan Borret. The architect-engineer, who also studied philosophy, was previously chief architect for the city of Antwerp. “Brussels urgently needs more living space,” he says. “We want to achieve urban renewal in the Canal Zone without displacing all of the local port and industrial activities. Industrial activity is as much a part of the city as new construction projects and public spaces with shops, bars, and restaurants.” He is convinced that a good mix of uses will lead to a more resil- ient city: “In my opinion, a good mix is more important for sustainability than highly technical aspects.” Tom Sanders, Director of the Department of Territorial Strategy of the City of Brussels, agrees: “Our Canal Master Plan is a philosophy. It is the unification of all aspects of urban design and planning, social and public spaces, mobility, business, and the environment.” Currently, the Canal Master Plan, which is a prime example of a holistic way of seeing everything in the urban context, is con- ceived with a planning scope of ten years. Kristiaan Borret: “This is a long-term project involving many parties, and that’s why we need a special kind of planning: We define clear principles – but we also give a great deal of flexibility. The goal is clear, but the way to achieve it must evolve.” It’s clear that decades of decline cannot be reversed in short order with a few good ideas. It takes meticulous, detailed work. The two projects in the Canal Zone that won the Lafarge- Holcim Awards Gold ex aequo Europe are a testament to the careful and far-sighted implementation of the Canal Master Plan. In this troubled urban context, there is now reason for optimism for the first time in a long while. “Canal Master Plan is a philosophy” Tom Sanders Two LafargeHolcim Awards Gold ex aequo 2017 Europe: The winning teams with the chief architect of Brussels and members of his team.

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