Brussels walks the green talk


With an incubator for green businesses and the city’s first-ever sustainable housing neighbourhood in the works, the capital has been stepping up its green game recently

Incubator is meant to close gap in city’s economic fibre

No, Brussels will not be the European Green Capital of 2015. It lost out the European Commission’s competition for the most eco-friendly city to Bristol in the UK last year.

But in making it to the final stage with just four other remaining candidate cities, Brussels convincingly demonstrated its green chops.  And with ambitious plans for a start-up incubator for green businesses and the its first-ever sustainable housing neighbourhood, the city is stepping up its green game.

From next year, entrepreneurs with green business ideas will have the perfect working space in the Brussels Greenbizz incubator, located in the canal quarter, close to the Tour & Taxis site. The first sustainable quarter in the capital – dubbed Tivoli – will also be erected in that same area. It will offer passive housing to city residents from 2016.

Since the end of last year, work has been underway to open Brussels Greenbizz by next spring. The incubator for green enterprises, partly constructed on a former site of the telecommunications company Belgacom, is meant to stimulate start-ups and spin-offs in the sectors of sustainable building and eco-friendly products.

Which entrepreneurs will move in exactly hasn’t yet been announced, but their work could, for instance, centre on renewable energy, biochemistry or sustainable building materials. “Greenbizz will, in the first place, fill a gap in the economic fibre of the capital,” says Julien Meganck, managing director of Citydev, which is responsible for city development and economic expansion. 

A place of innovation

The project has received €9 million in subsidies from the European Regional Development Fund, while the Brussels-Capital Region is pitching in €3 million. The project partners are Citydev, the enterprise agency Impulse, environment agency Leefmilieu Brussel and the building agency Scientific and Technical Centre for Construction Firms. 

The building will have solar panels and an innovative night-cooling system

- Architect Elodie Léonard

The proximity of building materials companies in the Brussels port area is also meant to function as an incentive to new businesses. In the long term, Greenbizz should create 200 new jobs.

“If the companies become successful, Greenbizz could create much more employment,” Brussels economy minister Céline Fremault told a reporter. “The incubator will furthermore strengthen the visibility and attraction of Brussels as a place of innovation.”

Start-up entrepreneurs will be housed in offices on the first floor of the incubator building (pictured), above three large workshop spaces on the ground floor. The long building will feature two inner streets for internal traffic, which are also meant to ensure that the construction remains an open space that doesn’t entirely block the view. A parking lot with a capacity for 60 vehicles will be constructed underground.

The Brussels-based Architectes Associés is hoping the building will set a good eco-friendly example. “The building will have solar panels, efficient insulation, an innovative night-cooling system and green roofs covered with vegetation,” says Elodie Léonard, from Architectes Associés. To keep its carbon footprint low, the architectural firm will make optimal use of natural lighting and only transport wood from nearby forests.

Architectes Associés has plenty of experience in the eco-friendly building sector, having designed the largest passive office in the Benelux – Aeropolis II in the Brussels district of Schaarbeek – and the new sustainable Brussels office of energy grid manager Elia. The construction of the incubator is in the hands of Brussels-based contractor CEI-De Meyer.

Close to the incubator, a large public square with trees will connect Greenbizz to Brussels’ first sustainable quarter, Tivoli. The neighbourhood will consist of 400 passive residences, 120 of which will be social housing units. It will also house a park, corner shops and an event space. Two new day-care centres will also be erected on-site for residents with children.

Apart from the energy-efficient performance of the buildings, the roads will also be designed for use by pedestrians and cyclists. Special attention will be given to water management, such as to the permeability of the soil. Open areas between the housing blocks will also offer extra green spaces and improve the biodiversity of the quarter.

Because of some pending judicial procedures, the start of the Tivoli construction works has been delayed until April.

Photo courtesy of PIXELAB