The chosen proposal, put together by a multinational team led by French architect Christian de Portzamparc, will create a "symbolic area for the EU institutions," said Kallas, giving "body and soul to the European political project" and providing the Commission with much-needed office space.
Rue de la Loi focus for new development
Centred on the Rue de la Loi, which runs from the Schuman roundabout – home to the EU executive's Berlaymont headquarters – to the Belgian capital's inner ring road, the revamp will see the construction of new offices, public spaces, shops and possibly a crèche for employees of the EU institutions.
The idea is to "regroup departments in bigger, more efficient buildings, ensuring a real mix of office blocks, shops and housing," according to the EU executive, with the ultimate goal of "reducing the Commission's overall environmental footprint," providing "good connections to public transport" and contributing to the "beautification of the Rue de la Loi and its surroundings".
The EU executive and Brussels Capital Region want to incorporate 400, 000 m² of Commission property on each side of the Rue de la Loi – thus moving 230, 000 m² of office space there. Currently, the EU executive occupies just 170,000 m² in the area covered by the competition.
De Portzamparc's vision, outlined in a presentation delivered yesterday, features a cluster of tall, glass towers close to the Charlemagne block as its "flagship" buildings, and concentrates most new construction along that side of the Rue de la Loi.
Minister-President of the Brussels Capital Region Charles Picqué described the proposed towers as "iconic buildings that will be among the highest in Brussels". "Building higher allows you to turn closed blocks into open spaces," he explained.
The EU area is no stranger to new construction. Indeed, new Council premises are currently being built next to the present Justus Lipsius building, while the train station beneath the Schuman roundabout is being modernised to better link the metro with the national rail network.
An EU official stressed that the aim of the new project is "to increase the density of the Rue de la Loi, not to build a skyline," pointing to the need to preserve the view towards the arch in nearby Parc du Cinquantenaire.
...but more open space
Indeed, the presentation also featured two-way traffic either side of a tramline running the length of the street, with a widened boulevard giving more space for trees and green spaces.
Picqué warned that mobility will be crucial to the success of any future development. "We are not going to ban traffic, but we want two-way traffic, public transport and a greening of the Rue de la Loi," he explained, admitting: "We are going to have to do a lot more thinking here."
At present, the Rue de la Loi is one of the city's busiest thoroughfares and features a huge tunnel linking central Brussels to the motorway system. "I am not in favour of keeping the current motor canyon," Picqué said, "but we have to respect the challenge. It's about mobility with functional constraints".
Picqué was quick to stress that the idea is not to "totally scrap and rebuild" everything. "It will be built over time. We won't just knock everything down and create a huge building site, and it won't involve a lot of compulsory purchase orders," he said, suggesting that the area's redevelopment could take about 15 years.
Commissioner Kallas denied that cost would be an issue, saying the EU executive will pay for the construction of new buildings from its own budget. "The Commission prefers to own its buildings, but renting is also possible. The cost will be within our budgetary limits."
The EU executive is also looking to decentralise by developing a further 1-3 sites outside the central area. It is currently considering nine locations and "will reach a decision in the course of the year".