The new Schuman Square in Brussels will be an icon for a democratic Europe. The banishing of high density traffic to a new underground tunnel allows the formerly isolated roundabout to achieve unprecedented integration and to form the central public space of the European District. In the center of this new space and in the axis of the most powerful corridor of regional, national and international power in the country, XDGA has designed a circular, shell shaped amphitheater. The intervention serves not only as an auditorium or amphitheater but also as an arena, a stand, a meeting place and a forum for open debate; a parliament for the people. This highly symbolic gesture provides a neutral and inclusive facility for politics, journalism, culture, sports events and manifestations alike.
Every newscast about European affairs features the Schuman square as a backdrop. It is a place where all sorts of political movements, large and small, try to bring attention to their cause. Just about every demonstration in Brussels follows an itinerary that starts or ends here. The renewal of the square should integrate the European quarter in its surroundings; link the international to the local. It is most probably one of the most important political public spaces of the continent. The underground rerouting of transit traffic allows transforming the former circle into The public space of the European district. The new Schuman Square must finally complete its political vocation. Given the often to bureaucratic image that the institution buildings suggest, the square has to become an icon and symbol of a democratic citizen Europe.
In the center of the square and along the axis that organizes all levels of power –regional, national and European – the project proposes a shell like amphitheater depressed along the axis. This strong symbolic gesture allows hosting a multitude of cultural, political, and sports activities. The object serves as a podium, arena, tribune and parliament for the people. The use varies in scale from “speaker’s corner” to the 20 km of Brussels half marathon. Four accesses in continuation of the radial streets anchor the object in its surroundings and allow for fluid crossing of the square. The center of the amphitheater is complimented with a hydraulic podium. The under sides of the amphitheater shelter a bike service point and a small shop for the florist relocated from the Froissart corner as well as two new entrances to the subway and train stations.
Today, the Schuman roundabout, as the name indicates, is a road infrastructure rather than a public space. It is often cluttered with intense traffic as it is one of the main entry points to the city. The new tunnel under the Cortenbergh avenue will eliminate transit traffic and greatly relieve the circle from vehicles. A very restricted amount of vehicles (public transportation, emergency vehicles, taxis, VIP motorcades during European councils or summits) will nevertheless be allowed on the future square to service neighboring buildings and insure connectivity with public transportation modes. The project proposes to further reduce the amount of busses that cross the square and completely eliminate them during European summits as the whole square is part of the security perimeter. With these new conditions in mind, it seems feasible to rethink the square as a public space that is mainly pedestrian where vehicles are only allowed occasionally and precedence is given to people rather than cars. In this light, the projects proposes to enforce the principle of shared space for the Schuman square and even to enlarge the mainly pedestrian zone to the concentric rings that reach until the “parc du Cinquantenaire” and the end of the “Loi” tunnel exit. On the square itself, the granite material is stretched until the building facades without changes of levels or other obstacles that would indicate traffic lanes. Pedestrians and bicycles are given free reign over the public space. The project proposes to strengthen the circular geometry of the space for historical, urbanistic and conviviality reasons rather than to accompanying mobility issues. It is above all a place of gathering, an amplifier of democratic voice, a space that belongs to the people.
ZONE B – SURROUNDING STREETS AND URBAN UNITY
The projected Schuman square reestablishes a strong circular epicenter for the whole neighborhood that can now radiate or ripple through the rest of the European quarter. The project proposes to expand the circular logic of the square to three further zones. A first ring around the square spans to
the edge of the Council and Berlaymont facades and forms an expansion of the square that includes the facades that are not on the original circle’s perimeter. The 60*60 cm light concrete pavement of this first ring is continued seamlessly until the edge of the buildings and contrasts with the dark stone of the center. The former walls on Berlaymont and Council street sides are removed and replaced by security bollards. This allows to restore a visual link with the base of the Berlaymont and to soften the aggressive look of the Council. A second ring of 45*45 cm dark concrete pavements spans to the new edge of the Loi tunnel exit and creates a European esplanade that provides an evident link between the Comission and the Council entrances. A last ring of 30 *30 cm light concrete pavements covers the pedestrian zone at large. The pavements are continuous from façade to façade and the principle of concentric rings is continued in the streets that end on the square thereby including them in the mainly pedestrian zone and softening their previous vehicular function. The outer ring traces the edge of a larger zone where precedence is given to pedestrians and bicycles, where motorized traffic is drastically reduced and regulated.
To integrate the European institutions in the city it should be the aim to better the physical relation between their buildings and the street. Today, the council is surrounded by a series of little walls and planted areas that distance it from the street. The Berlaymont, is also separated from the street by a series of walls, ramps and staircases that access a private esplanade which should be part of the public realm. The project, therefore, proposes to remove these walls and in the case of the Berlaymont, to create a new sloping level that connects the street level directly to the esplanade and entrance levels. The security function of the removed walls can easily be replaced with security bollards which form a much less obtrusive edge. This effectively enlarges the public zone to the foot of the institution buildings without creating a security risk and would suggest a positive attitude towards participation in city and public life.
COHESION OF THE PUBLIC SPACE
Both the visual axis of the Wetstraat-Jubelpark and the rotunda are strengthened by the shell-like shape. The public space in the area lacks in cohesion and simplicity. While the extreme density of mobility networks was solved ingeniously in the underground, the surface is perceived as chaotic, as a no-man’s land trapped between infrastructures. The morphology of the space is marked by buildings only at the east of the square. The circular geometry dissolves at the Berlaymont and Justus Lipsius facades which are set back. All the entrances to the underground are different. Lighting, signage and furniture do not follow a coherent formal logic. The building formerly proposed for Hall B obstructs one of the most important historical urban axis of Brussels.
The large amount of entrances to the train and subway stations threatens to choke the public space and hinder the access to the important European buildings. A series of eight new “buildings” or “boxes” is not warranted or desirable. In their place, the project suggests two new sheltered entrances under the shell and to keep the existing entrances free of roofs. This allows to keep the public space transparent and unobstructed, free of dominant objects. All entrances can be closed off by means of roller shutters that are integrated in the steel railings.
LINK TO THE UNDERGROUND
Barely visible from the surface, The Schuman square is marked by a very dense and complex subterranean infrastructure of road, train and metro tunnels that crisscross under its very center. The project proposes to reveal this less evident aspect of the city. The shell acts like a portion of ground that is pulled upward and merges as a canopy for two series of escalators that create a link between the center of the square at grade and a thus far vacant portion of tunnel that links directly with the ticket hall B as used to be the case in the 50’s. The re-appropriation of this underground space allows
for the creation of some shops and offers the spectacle of the “Belliard” tunnel through a series of windows.
Contrasting with the more generic materials used in the surroundings rings, the pavement of the square emphasizes its circular geometry with a nobler stone. Dark granite plates are arranged in a circular pattern that connects to the rings of Zone B without difference of level. The material is continued over the steps of the shell. As the pedestrian zone is vastly expanded in comparison to the existent situation and signage indicates the restricted zone well ahead, the square itself can become a shared surface where pedestrian and bicycles are given precedence over a minimal amount of busses, authorized vehicles and taxis. Four lighting posts are planned on the inner perimeter and can be used to light specific activities. The underside of the shell is lit with the intensity of an inside space and clad with reflective stainless steel to reveal the underground through its reflection.
SIZE OF THE AGORA
The size of the agora has been slightly increased in diameter and height in comparison to the first phase of the competition to reach 58 m in diameter and 7 m in height at its highest point. The agora develops 1204 m of linear seating to provide a capacity of more than 2000 seated places.
LOBBY - GROUND MATERIALS OF HALL B
The suggested building for entrance to the ticket lobby is replaced with a glass brick roof that follows the slope of the street. This preserves the perspective on the axis and keeps the link between the Commission and Council unobstructed. The edge of the tunnel exit is shifted west as much as possible to create a better link between the commission and the council while keeping a free height of 4.5 m in the tunnel. The glazing suggests the subterranean infrastructures from the street level as well as gives a glance of the outside world from below. The requested elevator is shifted outside the axis to become part of the entry at the Council side. In case of fire or explosion, the ticket lobby is put in overpressure by ventilators to remain exempt of smokes.
STRUCTURE AND SLENDERNESS
The preliminary structural study has proven that the concrete shell resting on two series of two columns inside the kiosks and four structural points above the Loi tunnel walls is sufficient to absorb
the necessary loads and transmit them to the tunnel walls foundations. A more extensive structural study is detailed ahead.
It is our opinion that the Schuman square is an intensely urban public space that should remain mainly mineral. The Cinquantenaire park provides sufficient high quality green space in the area. It should also be noted that the density of underground tunnels and spaces in the area provide little natural ground that can be used for planting trees. In most cases, a plantation strategy would have to be based on potted trees. Nevertheless, trees exist or can be planted in the radial street to provide green perspectives from the square itself. This is already the case when looking towards the park or the avenue Cortenbergh and Rue Froissart. Trees could be planted in natural terrain in the rue Archimede and the chaussée d’Auderghem.
Different lighting posts have been chosen to provide sufficient light to the agora activities while distancing itself from the football stadium image.