Comparison of Two Construction Projects

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Tour & Taxis Park – Bas Smets

This project is situated on the Tour & Taxis site in Brussels and is part of a master plan by Michel Desvigne, which covers 20 ha of green zone on and around the Tour & Taxis site. The 4 ha park designed by Bas Smets in 2013 is the most important and central part of the 9 ha park on the site itself and extends from the Havenlaan to the Bockstael Boulevard.

The natural slope of the terrain has been levelled when the site industrialized more than a hundred years ago and a tributary of the river Zenne had been filled up. Bas Smets wishes to re-establish the natural relief by softening the existing slopes at the edges of the terrain, using soil excavated in the lower parts of the park, since there was no money to provide new soil. The soil is not industrially polluted, but some sorting was necessary: illegal dumping, gravel, finer soil and sand. The lower parts of the park are excavated as these are very swampy. A drainage system with gravel basin, with a volume of 1 million, will be installed and allows the water to infiltrate into the soil. This way, the surface will always be dry, only in exceptionally heavy rains water will remain on the meadow.

The site was very hostile towards plants, even weeds were barely able to grow there. Therefore, over 3000 willows are planted. These pioneer trees grow two meters a year and absorb a lot of water. Their roots enhance the subsoil and so facilitate the growth of the more ‘noble’ trees which gradually will be planted. After 5 years, when these ‘noble’ trees are grown enough, the willows will be cut. This is an accelerated process to regain the nature. On short notice, a green belt will grow, which will shield the park visitors from the many building sites that will be started on the site the next few years. In the long run, a fully-fledged park will develop. The vegetation that will be used, refer to the historical plants that grew in the valleys of Brussels before the urbanization. “The site will be laid out by man but the park is seen as a real valley of the Zenne”, says Smets, whom previously studied the topography of Brussels and its rivers extensively (Vermeersch, 2014).

At the centre of the domain, a large open space will be created. Here people will be able to relax, sport or enjoy the view over the valley of the Zenne. “In this way, our park does not differ much from the nineteenth-century parks like Ter Kameren or the Woluwepark,” says Smets. (Van Garsse, 2013) At the side of the Havenlaan, the existing above-ground parking lot and asphalt will make way for a public place with five rows of trees, which will connect the Havenlaan with the park. On the other side of the park, at the Bockstael Boulevard, the park will connect to the green zone planted by Leefmilieu Brussel in the old track bed. The entire 9 ha park will be the largest green park constructed in Brussels in the past hundred years.

Minneapolis Riverfront – Stoss

Rivers in history have served as ecological and historical backbones of the communities living around them. As American cities deindustrialized, rivers have been unclaimed for civic use. They lay cluttered; remnants of their past serve as barriers to their potential re-use. (Ganes, 2011). In September 2010 an international design competition was announced, intended to address 5.5 miles of Minneapolis’ Upper Mississippi River, extending from the Stone Arch Bridge to the northern city limits. Stoss’s proposal, titled Streamlines, seeks to claim the Mississippi river as civic space and re-establish its presence in the city.

Their first step is to reclaim the river by a three-part activation strategy, purposefully conceived to have a significant impact along the entire north riverfront: FlowIntersect, a light sculpture by public artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer that visualizes the meandering of the river; light-boats, luminescent fiberglass rowboats which offer residents and visitors immediate access to the river; and re-fashioned barges, existing barges that have been adapted to recreational use, such as a swimming pool and an amphitheatre. These interventions also buy time to develop the rest of the park and the surroundings.

The key element in their design, according to the designers themselves, are new bridges across the Mississipi. They provide connection across the river, between distinct districts in the city, but the bridges provide not only physical connection, they also provide visual way-finding, place-making throughout a linear long site. The brides are linked to one another via the Riverwalk and the parks and connect neighbourhoods on both riversides, long separated by an industrial barrier.

Streamlines is also a project about working ecologies, ecological systems and dynamics put to work to clean, to re-constitute this working riverfront (Stoss Maltzan Utile, 2011). The river park on the north riverfront is a working landscape, one that cleans the site, and consequently the city, as it grows. The main structure of the park is a natural water-cleansing system of consecutive planted basins, wherein stormwater is intercepted and filtered. The water then flows into a shallow stream and bivalve bed.

On the eastside of the river, Stoss creates several Botanical Overlooks. These are public gardens in which regional native ecosystems are contrasted with more fanciful and exotic environments. Waste heat produced by a nearby power plant is used to heat a series of public outdoor hot tubs and, after the temperature has gradually diminished, greenhouses. When the power plant is not running, a field of solar hot water heaters provides the needed hot water. These gardens reach beck into nearby neighbourhoods via water boulevards, which collect and clean stormwater as well and serve as riverfront connectors.

The project also focusses on the surroundings of the river, since Stoss wants to re-establish the presence of throughout the whole city. To achieve this, they extend and expand the influence of the river to the neighbourhoods by re-making the I-94 corridor as an Energy Forest, filled with native trees that create new vegetated habitats, reduce heat radiation, and clean air pollutants from passing vehicles. With the same intention in mind, three new urban prototypes are proposed, each presenting a new way to inhabit the river. The fist, Industrious Parks, proposes live/work loft housing on the upper stories above warehouses and industrial spaces. Here as well, tendrils of the river penetrate the district and make the area perform better ecologically and doing so, revalue the neighbourhood. Secondly, the Greenhouse District with the Botanical Overlooks, re-imagines underutilized parcels on the East Bank of the river as sites for public gardens. The third prototype, City Islands, is envisioned as a natural extension of the lifestyle and character of Nicollet Island. Here, rowhouses and townhouses are scattered in an edible landscape, providing an affordable food source, maintained by the island community but are accessible to everyone.


Sources & Works Cited

SMETS, B., 2014, The Discovery of the Landscape, Lecture at KULeuven

VAN GARSSE, S., 2013, Uitgelicht: park onder de bruggen aan Thurn & Taxis, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2014]

VERMEERSCH, L., 2014, Dreef en glooiend landschapspark op Thurn & Taxis, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2014]

LUYSTERMAN, P., 2014, Weldra ligt u op de wei van Tour & Taxis, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2014]

STOSS, Minneapolis Riverfront, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2014]

STOSS MALTZAN UTILE, Streamlines, Detailed proposal, [Online] Available at [Accessed 28 December 2014]

GANES, J.,2011, Minneapolis Riverfront Competition Finalist / StossLU, [Online] Available at: ArchDaily [Accessed 28 December 2014]

StossLU, 2011, Video presentation Minneapolis Riverfront Competition, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 28 December 2014]