'Unused potential': Brussels embraces rooftop culture

'Unused potential': Brussels embraces rooftop culture
Credit: Le Jardin rooftop bar

From Jardin in the centre of Brussels to Albert's summer rooftop parties, more and more roofs are being transformed to fulfil urban functions. In the coming months and years, many more will be added.

The Brussels-Capital Region is a densely populated area, and even with its many parks, open spaces are limited, which can give residents and visitors a sense of claustrophobia. Now, the regional government is looking to roofspace as a solution.

"Roofs have a massively underused potential in terms of use of space, but creating rooftops is also great for the city's urban image. They offer a fantastic view over the city and often keep the sun for a long time," Damiaan De Jonge, spokesperson for Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism Pascal Smet, told The Brussels Times.

Jardin rooftop in the centre of Brussels. Credit: Lauren Walker/ The Brussels Times

"Looking at the very positive response to such spaces already and knowing that people really want to use this roof space, I think that rooftops will be a huge success and we are really going to integrate this into our urban culture."

As part of the region's move towards a more harmonised approach to new construction or renovation projects, the use of roofs will be discussed during the first meetings with stakeholders, owners, and architects.

"This is starting to result in many rooftops becoming available in Brussels in the coming months and years; this is just the beginning of a much bigger evolution," De Jonge said.

Northern District transformation

De Jonge pointed to the Northern District as an example of the potential for rooftops. "There are many large flat roofs where green roof terraces or solar panels are already being installed. But there are many other urban functions that can be performed there," he said.

Some rooftops will be open to the public and will be operated as cafés or restaurants, while others will only be accessible to residents or users of a building (such as employees in an office).

In the Northern district, as part of the ZIN project (the transformation of the two WTC towers), which is currently under construction, permission for a roof terrace has already been granted. Not only will it be accessible to the occupants of the flats and offices as well as to the hotel guests, but also to the public.

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A similar permit was given for a terrace on the roof of the Victoria Tower next to Botanique, which will include a bar and restaurant area. As part of the extension of the DoubleTree Hotel on Place Rogier, a permit was granted for a cocktail bar, a terrace and a garden on the eighth floor.

To the south of the city, opportunities are also opening up. The Goldman Sachs Group has requested planning permission for the construction of a terrace on the Blue Tower on Avenue Louise, which will offer a view over Brussels as far as Waterloo hill. The Generali Tower, located on the same street, recently received a permit for two roof terraces on the lower tower.

Rooftop hub on Boulevard Anspach

Many more publicly accessible rooftops will also be created nearby the existing Jardin rooftop in the heart of the city. Already, the creation of a rooftop terrace named "The Skybar" as part of the renovation of the Brussels Stock Exchange (La Bourse) was approved, which will be partly covered by a canopy.

Preliminary plans for the Stock Exchange skybar. Credit: Bourse/ Robbrecht en Daem, Baneton, Garrino, Popoff

The Multi Tower project (the renovation of the Philip Tower on the Place De Brouckère) will be laid out as a public terrace on the Boulevard Anspach side and will be made available to the occupants of the offices on the Rue de Laeken side.

On the same street, music venue Ancienne Belgique has recently submitted an application for a permit to create a roof terrace that will be accessible to the public.

"When access to the roof is not possible for the general public, we make the request for the building's inhabitants and create a public space that benefits building occupants," Smet said in the Brussels parliament on Monday.

Diversifying functions

De Jonge explained that, alongside the creation of possibilities for rooftop terraces to be opened up to the public as bars and restaurants, the government is particularly keen for rooftop spaces to serve a diversity of purposes.

"There are many other things you can create in such spaces, such as communal gardens for residents of the building or sports infrastructure; many cities already have these on roofs," he said.

A recent project for which the final plans were approved — the Manufakture building in the Abattoir area in Anderlecht, will experiment with various functions, one of which will be an open-air pool the size of Grand Place, which will be accessible to the public.

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