In Herstal, an old city block made of hangars and abandoned houses left room for set spaces such as a new train station, housing and shopping facilities laid out around a new public square. The project also includes the refurbishment of a park containing urban vegetable gardens for the inhabitants of the city. The station has been viewed as an opportunity to create a link between two different levels of the city: the lower (the square, the dense urban fabric) and the upper (the trains, the hillsides, the park). The concept of the building-square integrates two main stakes: it generates an intermediate level, a belvedere and articulates the different levels of the public space.
“A Building-Square” in Herstal, Belgium, by Multiple Architecture & Urbanisme
BigMat ’17 National Prize in Walloon and Brussels City regions of Belgium
Project title: A Building-square
Location: Herstal, Belgium
Office: Multiple Architecture & Urbanisme
Authors: Abdelmajid Boulaioun, architect
Collaborators: Livia de Bethune (SUM project), Jean-Philippe Jasienski (Multiple), Stéphane Massicot (Multiple), Marc Rouserez (Multiple), Ana Siwik (Multiple), Richard La (ARCADIS)
Type of work: Public
Photographs: Filip Dujardin
In words of Xaveer De Geyter (Belgium member of the panel of judges): “While this project might be modest and difficult to grasp at first instance, it triggers our attention for different reasons. The first reason is its context. On the slopes of the Meuse River, a railway station was installed at the edge of the city it serves. The railway itself splits the lower, dense part from the upper, suburban neighborhood. The urban fabric below and above arehardly continuous. They are stuffed with voids and the edges of the railway itself are loose and undefined. Not exactly a clear-cut urban situation welcoming new developments.
The second reasonconcerns the nature of the project. It is not just an architectural object, or a masterplan, or for that matter a clearly defined public space. It is a trajectory that tries to address the existing situation and that sees its potential. It features squares, parking lots, play gardens and picnic areas. And as the topography is a major issue, it is crammed with stairs, slopes, elevators, banks, belvédères and a tunnel.
The only architectural object, a railway station pavillion, is physically dissected from the railroad but clearly a self-conscious, visual hingefor the project as a whole. Yet the project is not only a trajectory. What you see is not what you get. Several new buildings are
planned for the main square, together with the station pavillion. The planning of these is pretty unusual: while all the public space elements are there, the buildings around the square consisting of housing, shops andsocial equipmentare to come later. Public space as a catalyst for new planning. The quality of the project lies in the physical revelation of the area’s potential, in contrast withmany architectural creations, which seemrather self-celebratory in their existence.”
Different elements connect the different parts of the city. Stairs and ramps create links to different levels and paths and regenerate a green landscape of the hillsides. The tower of the station finds its scale by visually connecting all the different levels of the project. It acts as a landmark for the city, allowing the passengers to directly find their bearings. The tower contains the “direct” vertical circulations such as the elevator and stairs.
Rhythm, light and material. Materiality has been conceived as a structuring element of the project. The station is built in red self-compacting exposed concrete. The lateral sides of the building have a raw texture left by the timber formwork. This character is bound to the inherent identity of the project, a building made out of a sloping ground.
The front facade is smooth and is addressed to the users of the public space. All the technical complexity of the project is integrated to create this very simple and raw expression which supports the generation of very simple and well-defined public spaces. The public square is made of cast concrete with white quartz aggregates, giving a luminous character to the square. The benches are made of white concrete. All the materials have been chosen for their sustainability in the intensive use of the public space.
In conclusion, the project aims to be both modest and very ambitious at the same time in relation to its surroundings and to set a new frame for public spaces in order to support new urban life.