The assignment issued by the council authorities of Ixelles in Brussels was: give the young people a place in our neighbourhood. But how do you design a place for teenagers in a difficult and dense part of the capital? Carton123 took up this considerable challenge. Together with the non-profit organization Jes, they talked to the young in the neighbourhood and then built the Malinard youth centre, which was inaugurated in the spring of 2021.
In 2016 the municipal authorities launched a competition for the conversion of the building on the corner of Petite Rue Malibran into a youth centre. There was no further definition of the programme, only that it had to house a music and recording studio. In the run-up to the competition, Carton123 visited the Chicago youth centre in the heart of Brussels. This gave the architects insights that helped to shape the design of the youth centre in Ixelles. The most obvious was that young people want undefined spots to hang out in: a few chairs, a good wifi connection and a table football table. But unlike in Flanders, where a youth centre is often more of a party venue, Brussels is targeting slightly younger children who hardly have the place at home to do their homework or study as well as truants who would otherwise just hang out in the street.
The centre is also a safe place for children who are in fact not allowed to go there. The architects proposed a light, open building, with a roof dome, an inner patio around which all the rooms are arranged, and also large windows that open onto the little square. But on the street side, the building is closed off by an almost blind façade, and the large casement on the square side can also be completely closed off for reasons of privacy. Ultimately, the design by Carton123 won the competition because it responded to a need that the existing Malibran community centre on Rue de la Digue could not meet: no large halls for organized activities in the youth centre, but a small-scale house with rooms. ‘A place where young people can feel at home’, says architect Joost Raes.
After winning the competition, Carton123 and Jes, the youth association, organized several participation moments to hear what the young people themselves wanted for the youth centre. It turned out that the music and recording studio that the municipality thought it could use to please the young people drew no interest at all. It was therefore quickly dropped from the design in favour of more space in which to watch films together, play games, play table football or table tennis. In addition to the programme, the young were also questioned about concrete proposals in the design, such as the position of the coordinator’s office close to the entrance, on a bend in the ground plan. The municipality feared that this panoptical position would be felt as too controlling. As it turns out, the teenagers say they actually like it: it gives them a sense of security, necessary to feel safe and at home.
The fact that there is finally a place for young people to go to immediately revived the entire neighbourhood. ‘Our main task is to gain the trust of the young and of the local residents. When they no longer automatically see the young as a nuisance, but as fellow citizens who contribute to the neighbourhood with their own youthful enthusiasm, our mission will be accomplished’, says youth centre coordinator Pablo de la Rasilla. ‘That is why this open house was really necessary. The impact is already enormous. I firmly believe in it.’