On Wednesday, the Brussels Regional Government granted a permit for the renovation and extension of the site of the former postal sorting centre at the Midi/South Station on Avenue Fonsny, announced State Secretary for Urban Planning Pascal Smet.
The construction will be commissioned by the Belgian railway company SNCB, which will house numerous operational activities in the renovated site – not only upgrading the station itself but also the entire neighbourhood.
"The project is of architectural excellence. The 'Tri Postal' has great heritage value and will be preserved and upgraded, restoring its soul. The building is complemented by a contemporary eye-catcher," said Smet in a press release. "A beautiful interplay between old and new. For me, this also symbolises Brussels, where we respect our past, but also have to look to the future with an open and ambitious mind."
This project should be the starting point for a much-needed metamorphosis of a neighbourhood that has been neglected for far too long, he said, calling it "the gateway for many people to our city and country. This neighbourhood deserves more ambition and pride and this is a good start."
Offering a quality environment
The design assumes a respectful revaluation of a unique piece of heritage in Brussels, renovating the existing buildings with a new linear volume on top. The relationship between the building – now forming a blind wall of more than 370 metres – and the surrounding neighbourhood was also explicitly taken into account.
In August this year, planning permission for the project was already granted by urban.brussels. This was appealed by the municipality of Saint-Gilles, but it has now been rejected by the Brussels government, which finally approved the permit.
"The government reaffirms its support for SNCB's planned headquarters at Midi/South Station. This is an important step for the district and its future. Indeed, the station plays a strong historical and symbolic role there," said Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort.
"In the coming years, a lot of urban renewal funds will be invested in the neighbourhood to support and complement this project, so that we can offer a quality environment to local residents, Brussels residents and visitors to our capital," he said.
The design is created by the internationally renowned architecture firm OMA, in collaboration with Belgian firms Jaspers-Eyers and Assar Architects – making the redeveloped building at Brussels South Station OMA's first in Belgium.
The aim is to turn the project into an "urban landmark," with three monumental buildings on Avenue Fonsny: the former mail sorting centre and the two flanking office buildings, which will be preserved and thoroughly renovated. The buildings in typical yellow brick date from 1957, and have been empty for more than 20 years now.
Since 2019, however, part of the building was given a temporary use by the non-profit association Communa, which breathed temporary life into it by providing functions such as a dance studio, a reception point for the homeless, and a neighbourhood cinema.
The characteristic elements of the external façade will be highlighted through the renovation of the existing buildings, while several interesting elements will also be preserved and restored inside the building.
On top of the revalued building, a new linear volume of 239 by 19 metres parallel to the train tracks and platforms will be built as well, characterised by large round windows. It will be located on the side of the tracks, set back from the street.
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Additionally, this will free up space on the roof of the existing buildings on Avenue Fonsny, which will be used to create roof gardens and terraces. The site's renewal will also be done sustainably, as solar panels will provided on the roof and special attention will be paid to biodiversity and the upcycling of materials.
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In addition to being a new gateway to the city and an upgrading of the entire district, the revamped site will also become the new home of SNCB. Apart from office space, it will include meeting and training rooms and other facilities such as a green roof terrace that will be open to all outside office hours.
The building will house the essential functions for national train traffic, making it the nerve centre of real-time train traffic management in Belgium.