Grue supports the notion of ‘capable place’ in its approach to public space: providing ‘capacity’ without predefining a specific use or dedicating the space to a specific age group. By assessing the fine line between an intrusive and an inclusive spatial layout, this string of projects signals a more delicate and open way of thinking, making room for young and old.
This project initially involved the complete redevelopment of three public spaces that were either cluttered or completely erased. Located at the bottom of the Maelbeek valley, a stone’s throw from Place Jourdan, all three are the result of major changes to the urban fabric made between 1965 and 1985. Square Forte dei Marmi is located at the bottom of Rue Gray, the ‘Sorelo’ garden and the ‘Ranch’ on Chaussée de Wavre, at the level of the bypass with Rue de l’Étang. Despite their strategic location (as end points or articulation points), none of them benefited from an appropriate layout. The Maelbeek Sustainable Neighbourhood Contract underlined the need to think about the sequence of these neglected spaces and to make the presence of water more visible.
Grue adopted a strong stance, turned towards the public and the multiple uses that they expect, based on the identification of the inherent qualities of the three places. Unlike Place Jourdan, which follows the slope of the topography, the intention in all three cases was to straighten the ground to generate platforms and to work with precision on the borders with a few steps or a slight slope to ensure the continuity of the paths. These borders were also treated by the placing of the furniture. The specific characteristics of the valley steered the choice of species, consistent with a humid environment: willows, alders, birches. On the ground, large-leafed perennials create a mass that creates a reassuring distance. This is yet another way of managing the notion of border: a wide planted fringe against which one can lean, turning one’s back on the traffic without having to resort to a fence with regard to the road.
While the project for the square has been put on hold until further notice, Ranch has been open to the public for a year and Sorelo was recently inaugurated. A calm atmosphere was sought for Sorelo, a garden located at the foot of an apartment building. Because of its location at the head of the block, Ranch occupies a more dynamic and visible position. This is where there is a playground filled, around and in the shade of a beautiful plane tree, by a large module designed by Grue on the basis of an octagon. A red concrete wall with a pink tinge creates a background to manage the common area. The ground rises up to meet it before becoming a bench: it delimits the play area without closing it. Around it, we find another type of furniture: two modules of cut stones, assembled by the void. These two seating devices, of a different nature, run along the crossing without directing the way they are occupied. The public rub shoulders without disturbing each other. Similar furniture in Sorelo asserts a shared identity.
It is on the basis of existing elements from a catalogue that GRUE composed the elegant octagon on which a series of playful modules are attached. There was no budgetary leeway to invent a game, produce a prototype and carry out tests to meet the many standards that govern children’s games. But the answer is all the more clever, exploring a Meccano-like system and possible variations starting out from a simple expression. The approved resistant materials are simply put to use in a different way. The three members of the team, parents of children aged between three and ten, took pleasure in drawing this disarticulated geometry, trusting in the children’s imagination to invent their own world. There is therefore nothing literal in this new game. And its unique colour reinforces the approach. Royal blue was chosen by affinity, the other tones according to the range. The ground in the ‘fall’ area is a slightly sandy yellow, very bright on sunny days, contrasting with the grey paving. On darker days, the pinkish red colour of the wall/bench stands out.
Regulations follow a particular logic in terms of safety, conformity and maintenance. They can give the impression that danger is everywhere. Grue has explicitly created a place of learning that accommodates the inevitable falls rather than one that seeks to prevent them by any means. The Ranch project advocates a specific type of education and awakening. The commissioning authority has defended it and the scores of children who play there on a Wednesday afternoon prove that you don’t necessarily have to build a pirate’s ship to set sail in one …