Bloc Paysage, vvv architecture urbanisme, Pauline Varloteaux and Pauline Cabrit teamed up to design four pocket parks under the motto ‘vers des communs métropolitains’ (towards metropolitan commons). The team of young (landscape) architects realized four small parks as green stepping stones along the railway embankment between Place Émile Bockstael and the Canal.
The city of Brussels was looking for a project that would create a green, recreational connection between Place Bockstael and the Canal. Four wastelands along the railway embankment that used to be owned by Belgium’s national railway company and Infrabel were acquired by the city of Brussels. The competition organized by the Brussels Government Architect prescribed that each of the sites should have an identity of its own, dependent on the site’s characteristics, and stressed the importance of involving local residents. In 2015 the team built up around vvv and Bloc Paysage won the competition to activate les friches, residual urban spaces that were previously inaccessible.
The limited surface area and exceptional location and topography of the pocket parks made the design a challenge. The designers decided to work with déjà-là elements on the sites. La Terrasse creates a new urban square on top of the Bockstael railway station and connects it via a rolling park and a playground on the railway embankment with the lower platform that is extended into the public space.Conceived as an experience trail, Le Vallon connects a new belvedere with an urban terrace for leisure and sport. Le Jardin-Station, a flat plot of land that lies, like a back garden, between the buildings and the railway line, is used as a communal vegetable garden for the neighbourhood. And an old railway embankment opposite the royal station in the Laeken Park was transformed into La Halte Royale, an extensive lawn with playthings, a shelter repurposed as a kiosk, and a viewpoint on the Canal. La Halte Royale establishes a connection with the neighbourhood and the canal bank, while on the railway embankment, the park anticipates the future bicycle bridge to Parc de la Senne.
Despite the limited surface, great ambitions underlie this project. The pocket parks were conceived as breathing spaces in a dense environment and fit in the greater park system that is formed by Parc de la Senne, Parc L28 and Tour & Taxis. In addition, using the motto ‘vers des communs métropolitains’, the designers show that to them, the layout of the parks is more than just the injection of a dash of green. They nurse the hope that the revalorization of wastelands in the city can lead to appropriation of the environment by local residents, the creation of social cohesion and even the reinforcement of the public sphere.
The ambition is also reflected in the role the designers see for themselves in future projects. The pocket parks show that collaborations between young design offices and different fields of expertise can lead to new methodologies. Drawing on their technical knowledge and expertise, the designers create a synthesis of the contextual factors: they study how the spaces fit in the area and the urban network, determine the impact of design choices on water management and the heatwave effect, and develop sustainable forms of participation. The real success of the pocket parks is indissolubly connected with their anchoring in the local context. In the designers’ vision, residents can decide about the layout and use of the new commons: they make joint use of them and are jointly responsible for them.