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Today, Monday 4 December, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Université Libre Bruxelles (ULB) presented Usquare.brussels: their joint project for the transformation of the abandoned gendarmerie barracks on the Generaal Jacqueslaan and the Kroonlaan into a new, lively neighbourhood with place for university services as well as housing for families and students. At the same time, both universities launched a call to project developers for the renovation of seven historical and architecturally significant buildings on the site, and their conversion into university facilities and public facilities that serve the neighbourhood.
Watch this video Elsene barracks to form open city neighbourhoods
The call for tenders is the first concrete realisation of the Usquare.brussels project. Every tender needs to lead to an ‘international university neighbourhood’, for which the work will be performed by the VUB, the ULB and the Brussels-Capital Region in the context of the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) 2014–2020 operational programme for the Brussels-Capital Region.
Yvon Englert, rector of the ULB, emphasises the commitment that the ULB and the VUB are taking with the barracks project, further developing the Brussels-Capital Region and benefiting its residents: ‘With an interdisciplinary research centre focused on sustainable development that offers a response to the demand for more housing for families and students and that creates synergies between incubator, StartLab and FabLab, ULB and VUB have joined forces in an open and innovative project in the heart of the Brussels-Capital Region.’
VUB rector, Caroline Pauwels, sees Usquare.brussels as a unique opportunity. ‘The dynamic of the ULB-VUB project makes it possible to bring the institutional powers together in Brussels in a fruitful synergy to develop major projects such as Usquare,’ she says. ‘We will expand these collaborative links in the areas of entrepreneurship, innovation and co-creation. The project is also being given an international dimension, with housing for students and researchers and with international reception spaces.’
The conversion of the site will turn the formerly closed gendarmerie barracks into an open neighbourhood, making much stronger links with the city and the surrounding suburbs. Main Building A, with its façade overlooking Generaal Jacqueslaan, will have a surface area of more than 4,000m2, an international house, museum space and a new inter-university and interdisciplinary research centre, aimed at investigating the urban challenges in the area of sustainable development.
The buildings on the corner of the Generaal Jacqueslaan, the Kroonlaan and the Juliette Wytsmanstraat (buildings B, C and C”) will offer space to the first Institute for Advanced Studies in Brussels (IAE). This is an important part of the international bridge that Usquare.brussels is set to become.
There will also be a covered market for sustainable dining in the old drill hall located at the centre of the site. The challenges of sustainability and responsible consumption are a central focus here. An awareness space advises consumers on the impact their eating habits have on the environment. There is a sustainable, organic market coming, plus a sustainable food court.
Sustainable development and circular economy are the foundations of the assignment. Therefore, all tenderers need to develop innovative applications with a focus on the reusability of resources. The right ecological and socio-economic approach needs to deliver an example site, where, above all, an inter-university research centre will be located, strategically transcending the borders of faculties and disciplines to focus on ecological, social, economic and urban aspects of sustainable development.
Usquare will also be a place for international researchers, professors and students, strengthening the international presence in Brussels. It will be the site of the first Institute for Advanced Studies in Brussels.
The goal of these Institutes for Advanced Studies (IEA) are to invite top-level foreign researchers for periods of up to a year. Relieved of their regular obligations, researchers have the opportunity to share their expertise and contribute to furthering knowledge in their specific domains. The Institutes for Advanced Studies ensure greater internationalisation, a stronger attraction and a greater presence at the universities and cities in which they are located.
There is an international reception house planned as well: a central reception and information point for international students, researchers, professors and tertiary degree students—and also for regional and community services.
Entrepreneurship and innovation
With Usquare.brussels, the VUB and the ULB are creating a community incubator where young student-entrepreneurs will be able to go for coaching. With its establishment, a unique environment is being envisioned, where research and the dissemination of university knowledge, and the flourishing of economic activities are being interlaced. The incubator is focusing on ICT activities that are internet-based or based on business models that use digital technology. The intention is that the incubator will become increasingly multidisciplinary, making a success of economic activities and company models. This will all be achieved through the complementarity of the teams that find homes there (artistic, technical, creative, business, etc.).
The ULB StartLab, itself an incubator for projects pursued by student entrepreneurs, will be a part of the new incubator. All student entrepreneurs from the Brussels-Capital Region will be able to go there.
Last but not least, a communal VUB and ULB FabLab will be a part of the new structure.
Sprouting from the popular academic programme ‘How to make almost Anything’, by the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the FabLabs (Fabrication Laboratory) now forms a global network of local open-source workshops that give shape to a new industrial revolution.
The founding philosophy is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to use apparatus and machines for digital production. This way, people can bring their own projects to life with 3D-printing, laser-cutting, CNC and plenty more.
The FabLab will be closely linked to the research and educational activities of both universities.
The property developer from the Brussels-Capital Region will direct the project and stand by the advisory committee for the selection and the eventual assignment.