W.T.C. Culture Palace
‘Sometimes he found it difficult not to believe they were living in a future that had already taken place.’
J.G. Ballard, High Rise, 1975
The‘’Quartier Nord’’ has been, for nearly a century now, an urban island. It was first isolated from Brussels’s city center by infrastructure - the Bruxelles-Charleroi Canal, the North-Midi train junction and Boulevard Leopold. Simultaneously, a ‘’politique de la pourriture’’ was applied with the specific aim of destroying the neighbourhoods, households and livelihoods in order to free the terrain for a massive investment and speculation. ‘’Quartier Manhattan’’, as it was named, was to become a new urban, economic, financial and poilitcial hub, with 54 state-of-the art skyscrapers and a new urban planning policy true to modernist ideals. However, due to the oil crisis, many investors backed out and the State had to kick in and thus became the owner of vast office spaces. 50 years later, Quartier Nord is mostly underpopulated, underused and notoriously boring, cold and dangerous. The State has allocated many of its offices to public institutions, including the ONE (Office National des Etrangers), which is the sole occupant of the tower originally named World Trade Center I. The neighbourhood is therefore occupied by white-collar workers, on their way to-and-fro work and Gare du Nord, as well as migrants who are striving to regularise their situation
and have only this institution to turn to.
Seeing in WTC I and II a great potential for an entirely new programme which may open, un-isolate and improve the attractivity of the Quartier Nord, Traumnovelle proposes an architectural project backed by a piece of short fiction in which the north tower, WTC I, is transformed into a contemporary art museum, and the south tower, WTC II’s current functions, a reception center for asylum seekers, are improved and asserted. The common three-level slab manifests the two programmes’ similarities (entrance systems, security and flow management, waiting systems) and dissimilarities (exhibition space as opposed to health checks, accommodation and clerks’ offices). In between, a no-man’s-land demonstrates the unbridged breach between both publics yet exacerbates the symmetry between both programmes.
This piece of work addresses several major issues relative to the Quartier Nord, but which are also transversal to many European cities and neighbourhoods. Namely, how can a derelict neighbourhood be revitalized thanks to public and cultural institutions? What role do art institutions play in creating lively neighbourhoods? How attractive is art? How can abandoned office buildings, one of Brussels’ most recurring typologies, be meaningfully reallocated? Can spaces be affected to handling the migrant crisis, and how? Should public spaces alone absorb the need, or can private spaces be requisitioned? How should we welcome these newly arrived potential future European citizens? How do the spaces dedicated to welcoming migrants reflect harsh, exclusive and often inhumane policies? Moreover, this piece of work also aims at questioning whether modernist and functionalist architecture can be considered as part of the European cultural and architectural heritage, and if so, how can it be reallocated, handled, renovated, and valued.