AGORA – Belval, a quarter with a design based on a bold masterplan
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Belval, a quarter with a design based on a bold masterplan

To imagine the Belval quarter, architects, engineers, landscape and urban planners worked from the masterplan: a musical score uniting everyone around the same vision and game plan. With a high level of detail right from the outset, the Belval masterplan has also evolved a lot over time.

The musicians of the orchestra interpret the pieces strictly following a score. In urban planning, the same thing happens: architects, engineers, landscape and urban planners always work from a masterplan, a reference planning document built around the same vision, the same consistency and the same game plan. The Belval masterplan, being particularly detailed, has also evolved a lot over time.

Architects and musicians, fighting for the same cause? This is the analogy given by Rolo Fütterer, who used to work for the Dutch firm Jo Coenen & Co Architekten, who drafted the basic version of the Belval masterplan back in 2002 and who is now supervising it with his own firm MARS. He explained his role as that of a conductor. “The masterplan is the score,” he said to the magazine Wunnen Luxembourg in 2008. “The soloists’ interpretation corresponds to the architects’ input. Someone is needed to be the link between the score and the soloists. Otherwise the architecture becomes a cacophony. This requires coordination based on dialogue.”

The subtle art of consensus

There has always been and there always will be dialogue in Belval, a quarter where success is largely due to the typically Luxembourg culture of consensus. A practice in which the parties involved are always consulted in order, ultimately, to arrive at a shared vision. The masterplan was thus built through consultation. It is also based on numerous preliminary investigations, taking into account the nature, physical characteristics of the soil and the existing infrastructures, the environment, economic and social conditions, and the needs in terms of private and public facilities.

“When you have a masterplan you make calculations and projections to see what is possible,” points out Thomas Rau, Director of Urban Planning and Infrastructure at AGORA. This is where you develop the urban, landscape and architectural visions. This is also where you determine the allocation of sub-quarters and the economic conditions for turning them into reality. In Belval, we chose to define all this in some detail right from the outset. ”

Nevertheless, also designed to evolve and change over time and in response to the changing needs and economic conditions, the masterplan has seen multiple incarnations between 1997 and 2020. In particular, it underwent a major update in 2008. From one document to the next, the dream of transforming the industrial wasteland into a brand new mixed-use quarter has become a reality.

1997 to 2002: preparatory works

In 1998 the development company AGORA does not yet exist. In Belval-Ouest the ArcelorMittal works has ceased its activities. The steel company then joins forces with the Luxembourg State to conduct the first studies and initial stages of reflection that will lead to the development of a masterplan for the future Belval quarter.

On the drawing board of an entity then called the Groupement d'intérêt économique pour l'étude de la reconversion des sites sidérurgiques [Economic Interest Grouping for the Study of the Redevelopment of Iron and Steel sites] (GIE-Ersid), a study given the name AGIPLAN identifies Belval as a national development priority. The document comprises several chapters: soil composition, socio-demographic analysis, inventory of needs expressed by the State and by the municipalities of Esch-sur-Alzette and Sanem, etc. It forms the basis that will lead to the definitive urban concept.

GIE-Ersid's initial work divides the quarter into three sub-quarters, one devoted to culture and knowledge, another to housing, and the third to mixed activities.

A great polyphony

The bases of a first study masterplan were then proposed by the Blase-Böll planning group, later supplemented by the government's choices to anticipate the future of industrial wastelands viewed through the prism of the Grand Duchy's evolution.

In its report “Friches industrielles - Etat d'avancement et perspectives [Brownfield sites – State of Progress and Prospects] (May 2000)”, the Ministry describes “in the shadow of the blast furnaces, a building complex where students, researchers, economic players and lovers of culture and archaeology will meet, all of whom will contribute to bringing the site to life. ”

The Science, Research and Innovation City concept was born! It was instrumental in the subsequent evolution of the masterplan by the architectural and planning office Dewey & Muller. A project that has become denser and more urban.

As early as 2002, a definitive masterplan

A new decade is beginning. Luxembourg enters this new decade with explosive energy. The country is at an important crossroads in its history and its development. It decides make redeveloping and highlighting its industrial wastelands a reality. The venture is taken over in Belval by the new AGORA company, inaugurated in October 2000. Its first step will be to launch an international urban planning competition to draft the definitive masterplan.

The task now is to determine the urban and landscape design of the new quarter. The “Science City” is now considered as the key project of the State on the site. The concept will have to include the two blast furnaces that will continue to dominate Belval.

A green quarter

The competition brief also calls for a design that gives pride of place to sustainable building and energy supply, and the integration of public transport and public space planning.

In the early 2000s, it was impossible to design a quarter without taking account of ecological principles. This imperative will only become more pronounced in the following years.

After several months of work, the Jo Coenen & Co. office in Maastricht is chosen by the jury. Its project was able to meet all the criteria in the brief and put forward a proposal for a project of "great clarity". “The establishment of the park as well as the landscape design are considered exemplary,” added the jury.

2008: an important update

“In 2008, as the economic situation became more difficult, AGORA realised that the masterplan had to be adapted to the new situation on the property market, especially with regard to the Square Mile, explains Thomas Rau. This is the quarter with the highest density, and we had envisioned plots that were too large and were of less interest to developers. They didn’t want to risk building on such large plots.”

The Square Mile district then underwent two major changes. In 2010, in the Esplanade sector, the focus was on office space for small and large companies. In 2011, following an international competition won by the Rotterdam KCAP office, the entire Square Mile centre was reinterpreted.

And multiple evolutions...

Further updates have been necessary: At AGORA’s request, the “Um Belval” park thus changed in 2014 from a “wildlife park” concept to that of a “functional multi-use” park. The programming of the Belval Sud residential quarter has also been revised to be "more avant-garde," as Thomas Rau puts it.

The latest modification to date, a final international competition, won by the Luxembourg firm Metaform Architects in association with Latz+Partner and the team of structural engineers HLG, made it possible to design the layout of the future Place des Bassins: the transformation of the former sintering ponds into a public square which will become the vibrant heart of the Central Square quarter.

A polyphonic and evolutionary approach in the masterplan: this is the key to ensuring that Belval’s 120 hectares are best suited to the needs of contemporary and future generations. Forward looking! This is AGORA’s watchword for every project!

"Il était une fois" tells the history of AGORA through its events and encounters with people who have marked its history.

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