‘A city where it never rains’

The monumental Gare Maritime on the Tour & Taxis site in Brussels has been transformed into a new city district by Neutelings Riedijk Architects in cooperation with Bureau Bouwtechniek and OMGEVING, commissioned by Extensa. Once Europe’s largest railway station for goods, Gare Maritime is now turned into an inspiring place for companies, ranging from start-ups to renowed brands. Together they surround an impressive public space for all kind of events.

As Neutelings Riedijk Architects designed this covered city entirely in wood, Gare Maritime is an excellent example of a sustainable development. Moreover it is the largest CLT-project in Europe.

Public gardens and squares

Gare Maritime dates from the beginning of the twentieth century. The enormous building is no less than 280 meters long and 140 meters wide. It exists of three larger and four smaller halls, that now have been made accessible to the public again. Under the existing roofs of the side aisles, twelve new building volumes are added to accommodate the new program of 45.000 m2.

The central space in the heart of the building has been kept open for public events. It has a pleasant climate which follows the changing of the seasons. Inspired by the ‘Ramblas’, on both sides of the event space a green walking boulevard is created. The 16 meters wide pedestrian routes give enough room for spacious inner gardens, with a hundred  large trees. The gardens are planned by landscape architects OMGEVING. They designed a total of ten gardens based on four themes: the woodland garden, the flower garden, the grass garden and the fragrance garden. The choice of plants has been adapted to the specific growing conditions, which are comparable to a Mediterranean climate. For the little squares, Brussels visual artist Henri Jacobs designed eight mosaics.

State-of-the-art in sustainability

Gare Maritime is entirely energy neutral and fossil free. At all levels – construction, climate, circularity, biodiversity, health – far-reaching sustainability measures have been implemented. Use of geothermal energy and reuse of rainwater for watering the gardens are a few of the measurements taken.

During the design process, attention was also paid to the circularity of the construction by designing dismountable connections and modular building elements. The central events plaza for example, was built from recycled cobblestones. This sunken central zone refers to the historic quays in function of the transhipment of goods. For the circulation zones, large concrete tiles were chosen, which were placed in half-brick bond to obtain a robust but urban character. The retaining walls and stairs were covered with recycled natural stone from the old building.

Thematic Gardens

Working with thematic gardens should enhance the experiential value but also support the ‘wayfinding’ in the hall. In this way the companies can identify themselves with their specific ‘front garden’. The thematic gardens differ both in plant choice and spatial interpretation. By varying the planting concepts (groups of shrubs versus solitary plants, organic planting schemes versus linear planting schemes, etc.) and plant species, diverse green images are created. In the flower garden, different flowering plants such as magnolias and robinias were used while in the scented garden, different scented plants such as pistacia and osmanthus were included. The grass garden includes a unique image with whimsical cork oaks with grassy undergrowth, while the woodland garden presents a more closed image.

Specific plant choice

For the plant choices, the light intensity and lack of ventilation in the hall were particularly challenging. In terms of temperature variation, the Gare Maritime can be compared to a Mediterranean climate, although with much lower light intensity. This also determined the choice of plants. In consultation with Tree Nursery Ebben, the species were carefully selected to suit these specific conditions. The plants are currently being monitored and experiments are also being conducted with test set-ups with additional lighting. All watering and soil moisture monitoring is done via a central digital control system. The trees planted in the hall are robinias, gleditsias, maples, holm oaks, cork oaks and pines. Through the variety of species we are also trying to limit the spread of disease. The evaluation after the first months is cautiously positive. The drought period and heat wave this summer were already a strong test for a number of species. The expectation is that additional light will be necessary to keep the trees in optimal condition.

Development Tour & Taxis

The development of the Gare Maritime is an important contribution to the development of the Tour & Taxis site and the Kanaalzone in Brussels. The preservation of this monumental building emphasizes Brussels exemplary role in sustainability


Architecture offices involved in the design: Neutelings Riedijk Architects is architect

Project location: Tour & Taxis site in Brussels (Belgium)

Design year: 2017

Year Built: 2020


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