Along the canal in Vilvoorde, just north of Brussels, an old industrial site is being developed, using all the assets of the site to produce an attractive, metropolitan living environment. In this brownfield development, only one building has not been demolished: the former powder factory. Although the deep building is charming in its simplicity, it proved very difficult to retrofit in a financially viable way. Now that the development was taking up speed, the developer started to fear that charm might soon turn into crisis, with the building as an obstacle right in the centre of the new neighbourhood.
In order to understand the strategic potential of the building from multiple perspectives at once, we set up an intensive ‘design in dialogue’ trajectory. We looked at the spatial and programmatic possibilities of the existing structure and questioned of what of it could be reused; we investigated the urban potential of the site as a central spot of the site but also as a connector in linking the city to the canal. And finally, we developed the financial requirements to make a financially viable operation, balancing building costs with potential revenue.
This design process was structured to make the sharing of parameters and potential as fluid as possible. During thoroughly prepared productive meetings, multiple platforms of production were simultaneously activated. Or –to put it more simply- we staged a discussion which was fed both by spatial models, by the outcome of excel sheets and by the desires of all stakeholders at once. This collision allowed to produce new proposals on the spot, which were afterwards developed and checked for their legitimacy.
During these common design sessions, we challenged the different stakes and produced a result that makes the most out of the different requirements, along the way redefining the way the building and its program would perform. By partly demolishing the existing structure, we reuse what remains of it as an open, urban roof. The building turns into a covered public space that can activate the water side as a new and flexible destination, while also enhancing the porosity of the site towards the city center by linking to a path running along the river at the back of the site.
On top of this existing structure –and piercing through it with a new and independent foundation- a living/working development is created with some publicly accessible functions that can serve both the complex and the surrounding city fabric, using the roof as a balcony and common terrace with view on Brussels.
The new proposal required reworking the urban regulations, a task the city initiated. In the meanwhile, however, the notion of flexible use has been implemented, already preparing the ground and testing 'in vivo' the type of destination the Kruitfabriek can grow into.