Extensive evaluations of the existing CCN complex sitting atop Belgium’s busiest multimodal pole have come to an end pending its dismantling, while work on the 160.000sqm project replacing it is underway led by architectesassoc+ with engineers Greisch, Arcadis and TPF. Careful investigation has convinced indeed all parties that the worn-out ensemble’s flimsy structure, its haphazard, very (un)modular grid and deep dark volumes imagined way-back-when when daylight levels were no one’s priority together distinctly validate first intuitions: demolition+newbuild is future’s best bet, leading to intense option testing shown here. 

This is an unusual decision given that the debate usually tips towards maintaining existing structures to avoid pollution and waste, but in the long haul a sustainable option here given the huge people-positive impact a reciprocity-based design is capable of offering to generations to come compared to the aloof 1970’s behemoth. In effect a walk around the present CCN is revealing: today the whole bulk is obsessively me-centered, a self-serving configuration imperiously ignoring the world outside its walls. Its sheer mass overbearing to the point of consistently throttling the delicately proportioned Gare du Nord’s waning efforts to play its due role articulating Brussels’ dense city center on the one hand and its canal-side outskirts on the other. And perhaps most dismally, CCN’s perimeter at pedestrian level is close to repulsive on all fronts:  dark dreary holes, ominous crooks and crannies, foul-smelling exhaust coughed up by a horde of taxis, cars and buses everywhere keeping you from getting close if you ever even wanted to. 

Everything here pleads for doing things differently.  

So after almost two years spent inspecting boreholes, assessing data and inventorying parts and pieces, architectesassoc+ assisted by studios ELD and Eupalinos have introduced _ not a demolition permit _ but a deconstruction permit. City Authorities and the Commission de Concertation have studied the proposition closely and notified their approval, adding pertinent requests and issues still to be addressed, clearly demonstrating how complex the project really is.  

It is nevertheless clear that dismantling will predominate, fueling the circular routes implemented. What cannot be reused will essentially serve as sublime counter-examples of what we must no longer do, shining the light on what we must do instead this time around: design reversible, flexible, cradle-to-cradle, accessible to all, in a nutshell responsible. Obsessively not-me-centered, searching to connect dialogue enrich animate wherever we touch ground: entrances wide and welcoming energizing street space, shops of all sorts level with sidewalks, spilling out onto them, a continuous promenade along animated facades front back left and right, an uninterrupted canopy protecting us from rain and wind currents. Bus routes simplified, train and metro station accesses unscrambled. A life-filled mix of housing, offices, retail and public amenities connected by and interacting with qualified unbuilt space. Straightforward things designed hand in hand with urban planners Atelier Horizon such as sun-filled plaza’s, benches galore, a tree-lined bus stop, or an uninterrupted softly sloping 300m long traffic-free mall nonchalantly herding the throngs flowing in from the canal scape beyond towards the new low-lying hub and disencumbered Gare du Nord reigning above it, its elegant light-colored stone façade carefully restored overlooking a green leafy square where you can sit and wait for friends have coffee read a book before your train is due. 

Building permits will be introduced early 2022.