Humanising the European district: mission impossible?

Article published on March 29, 2009
Article published on March 29, 2009
Article written by Julien de Cruz Translated by Sophie Delios The Brussels-Capital region along with the European Commission revealed the “Rue de la Loi” architectural renewal plan. It is hard to believe that this sprinkling of greenery is really going to change the face of the dreariest district of Brussels.' The name itself is appealing: Rue de la Loi (Law street).
Artery of the Brussels European district, it can without offending anybody be defined as the least sexy street of the Belgian capital. The European civil servants pines there, Belgian people feel themselves strangers and protesters of all kinds, used to demonstrate on this boulevard of the institutions, sometimes feel the coldness of its marble from a bit to close .

The European civil servants, an endemic species?

If I had a malicious gossip, I would say that we have to put somewhere those big buildings of the European Commission, which grow bigger as the European Union grows geographically and in terms of competences. The European administration is indeed a real biotope. It takes the place of other buildings and swallows up all the things it needs to satisfy its expansion on its way. The endemic species of the European civil servant then, as the Mediterranean green algae, begins to nibble Etterbeek after having concreted at will everything between the Royal Palace and the Cinquantenaire Park. Even Albert hides at Laeken because he knows well that he is in danger near the Mont des Arts.

I am of course a big friend of Europe and its institutions with their urban integration as respectful of Brussels’ jovial identity as willing to wipe out the bureaucratic coldness behind the warmness of the feeling of union spread by Brussels in a same spirit from Tallinn to Lisbon. You would certainly have understood it; the European district has the same identity problem than the European Union. It experiences difficulties to reflect the beauty of the project it bears. In reality, the result is quite the opposite. Whenever you take the rue de la loi, you should get in the Kafkaesque character of Europe, important people walk under geometric spaces thinking about directives and guide lines. Welcome to the fourth dimension.

A French to humanize the Rue de la Loi

Fortunately, the French architects are there. Christian de Portzamparc has not only a name difficult to pronounce. He also has innovative ideas for the Rue de la Loi. His project has been accepted by the Brussels-Capital region and the European Commission and here is what he wants to do. He wants to create a district “based on the concept of the open islet, open street, city transformation, opening to the unpredictable, the coexistence of the times and dimensions”. Looking to the pictures of the project, I said to myself that it was interesting. Reading the summary, I was a bit scared. Do we really want to open up to the unpredictable in the European district? We should not forget that the European civil servant, closed up in his ecosystem, can sometimes go mad. It is therefore dangerous to break his bearings.

rue_de_la_loi.jpg It is very difficult to humanize such a district as the one of the rue de la loi, we should give the French architect the benefit of the task’s difficulty. It is then possible that the needed renewal district project will affect more its structural issues. So we can only improve the difficult traffic and add some greenery to this greyish body. As for creating a warm place of life in the bullring of the European power, let us doubt about it? After all, are the European civil servants there to have fun? And don’t forget that this endemic species will just have inaugurated its new greenery lung when its worst voracious specimens will start to stuff themselves with the lives and recover, by simple carelessness, the new shaded drives with German cars and their inappropriate power drive. What if we started by attacking those jokers in suit and tie?

(Photo credits: Herman Beun / Du-Sa-Ni-Ma/flickr)