MolenWest Square, a new public space just a stone’s throw from Brussels-West Station, was inaugurated in September 2020. For this to happen, it was necessary to create appropriate infrastructures for this piece of wasteland intended for young people. A temporary occupation project carried out by 1010 Architecture Urbanism.
Brussels-West Station, in the heart of Molenbeek. An intermodal transport hub (metro, bus, tram, train), meaning that it is a key development site in the Brussels-Capital Region. Nearby is a thirteen-hectare, one-kilometre-long bit of wasteland consisting of plots owned by Infrabel and the National Railway Company of Belgium.
This former goods station with underused potential was redesigned according to a definition study. A master development plan (MDP) was voted on last June by the Brussels Government: it provides for 90,000 m2 of new constructions, including facilities, shops and housing (50 per cent), the majority of which will serve a public purpose. A 4,500 m2 water park, green spaces and improved soft mobility are also on the agenda.
In the meantime
It is in this context that MolenWestSquare was created on this wasteland last September. Thanks to the Sustainable Neighbourhood Contract ‘Around Park West’ and the relevant regional subsidies, the municipality decided, after consulting the inhabitants, to issue a call for projects to the neighbourhood associations in order to create a play area for children and young people. Seven associations now share the site and offer creative, sporting and educational activities accessible to all.
For this temporary occupation, an architectural competition was launched by the Urban Development Corporation (SAU/MSI), which financed the installations (470,000 euros). The competition was won by 1010 Architecture & Urbanism, whose project centred on the installation of containers connected by a transparent roof to accommodate the activities, an additional unit to house a caretaker’s office, as well as the development of the surroundings and a fence around the space.
An ad hoc arrangement
‘Our objective’, Bert Gellynck explains, ‘was to create mobile structures, given the temporary nature of the square, to accommodate a play area that could receive not only young people, boys and girls, but also toddlers, hence the fence. Many playgrounds are arranged for activities intended for boys between 14 and 16, but we wanted MolenWest to be accessible to everyone’.
The choice of six containers, recovered from the port of Antwerp and connected by a light translucent tarpaulined metal structure, is the cornerstone of this facility. ‘What we wanted’, Bert Gellynck continues, ‘was to set up an infrastructure that would lend the site a new identity, given the volume and the presence of the prefabricated arches, and that would be legible from a distance, that would have an impact on the street and trigger the interest of the population’. Mission accomplished, considering the success of the activities and the momentum that the installation has created in the neighbourhood.
The enthusiasm of the children and young people in the neighbourhood is palpable. Samir, a youth worker for the non-profit organization Samen Voor Morgen, which coordinates all the activities, says: ‘After being closed for three months due to the coronavirus, we put someone on duty at the entrance to MolenWest in order to secure the premises and to channel the number of children on the site in order to comply with the health regulations.’ A mother of two boys aged 8 and 10 also expressed her interest in the project: ‘The children are thrilled to take part in the activities, partly in Dutch. There are very few places like this in the municipality. They are very well looked after and can really have a great time.’
As far as the premises are concerned, the containers, which the associations share, have some specific facilities (storage of equipment, kitchen and FabLab). The concrete slab has been cut open in places to make the surroundings greener, but soil pollution underneath this slab has prevented more extensive interventions. A water course, fed by two large rainwater tanks, was set into the concrete and tubs were installed to accommodate a vegetable garden.
This is an important project for 1010, because they transformed several urban ambitions into an experimental architectural installation.
 Centrum West D’Broej (youth centre); Sport2be (free, mixed sports activities); Samen Voor Morgen (Together for Tomorrow), which coordinates all the associations and offers a range of activities; La Rue (which supports the renovation of housing), FabWest (an offshoot of the FabLab in the House of Cultures); the information point of the Neighbourhood Contract ‘Around Park West’; ABEF (remedial club for secondary-school pupils).