AGORA – “Um Belval", green link betwenn residential areas and Square Mile
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“Um Belval", green link betwenn residential areas and Square Mile

New York has its Central Park, Belval has its "Um Belval" park. A lame comparison? Not so much! Situated exactly in the centre of the quarter, the park, connecting the residential areas with the more urban districts, combines relaxation and leisure functions. It also hosts a high school and a primary school nearby. AGORA wanted to make it the green lung of the quarter, an enjoyable space open to all.

The clock has struck twelve noon It's lunchtime, but your dog gives you a pleading look as he scratches at the door: he is asking for his daily walk. He’s impossible to resist. That’s fine, the park is there just for you.

A short stroll along the Waassertrap, the cycling and walking track that winds its way to the foot of the park, and your mind is already wandering in the shade of the poplars.

Here, every season the landscape changes. Take time to observe how it changes after the rain. Observe the path of the water as it seeps into the ground, runs through the gullies of the embankment and eventually flows into the small dams of the Waassertrap at the foot of your block. An hour before everything was quiet. Now you hear the clear sound of water flowing, setting the tempo of your steps.

A few steps to climb and here you are on the plateau of the park and its multiple options: walking trails, mini football pitch, skate park, playgrounds and relaxation areas! If activity does not tempt you, feel free. The park is also perfect for resting, meditating, and why not have a picnic.

In the park there is also the Lycée Bel-Val high school which your nephew Gabriel attends. And recently, the new Kannercampus of the Municipality of Sanem opened its doors to welcome its first primary school pupils. In Belval, the children now have their own campus. A first-rate educational complex which, in the long term, should include a school, a nursery, a maison relais, a differentiated school and a sports hall. Just wait a few years and the little ones will go on to university.

A park bringing people together

Today everything is quiet during your walk. Children laugh as they slide down a slide. This is an opportunity to discover the first artistic installations that are gradually appearing in the park. The latest arrival is right in front of your eyes: "Mind the Brain", the work of the artist Marc Pierrard. The representation of a two-metre high fibreglass brain that weighs 1.6 tonnes! The sun is reflected and split in the different facets of this unusual sculpture, creating an infinite play on perspectives.

But the park is also used for large popular events. As it was in January 2017 during the world cyclo-cross championships. A major event that gathered thousands of spectators around the 3.2-kilometre circuit laid out for the occasion

Designed in two stages

It sounds simple, but almost ten years passed before the park was inaugurated in June 2015 and its eight hectares transferred to the Municipality, which is now responsible for maintaining it. Studies, planning, remediation, land modelling, plantations, almost all the technical aspects of AGORA's trades were mobilised to create the park.

Before arriving at its current design, a first landscape concept had been studied on the basis of proposals from the Lubbers office associated, as early as 2002, with the work of the master planner. The space was designed around the idea of a "wild park". A project in which the landscapers planned to make few changes partly keeping the original aspect of a forest provided with a few paths and playgrounds.

The design of the park was based on the existing basic elements, in the image of an "archaeological" park: a distinctive landscape characterised by its relief, vegetation and the sculptural remains of its former industrial use. The Dutch Lubbers office thus advocated a "wild but accessible" environment, which was structured according to the differences in altitude and levels.

Policy reversal

"The project was promising, but in the end it was considered that it did not leave enough usable space for its occupants. We had to go further to ensure that the park was fully utilised by residents and occupants of all the surrounding neighbourhoods," explains Beate Heigel, project manager architect at AGORA.

A call for tenders enabled several teams of landscape gardeners to work on a new concept and to give the award to the Franco-German agency Agence Ter. The winning project submitted a more "functional" concept. It provided for several successive spaces and gardens to allow for a greater variety of uses. The industrial history of the site was also taken into consideration and integrated into the overall presentation of the park. Agence Ter's proposal recommended creating the basis for an urban park that integrates the character of the existing site, the relationship to future quarters and the creation of structured places for leisure and relaxation. The matter of making the path of the rainwater visible was also a fundamental element giving meaning to the whole project. It is this concept that has been implemented. The topography of the site in three plateaus/embankments located at different levels creates the support for the staging of the park and its relationship with the different quarters. It offers a visual approach from top to bottom, from near to far.

Relaxation and contemplation of nature go hand in hand with sports and games, in a park that now has everything to please the whole family.

What about the future?

A few more years and the area of the park will be completed and doubled. The concept of the masterplan is to integrate the entire current part of the Plateau Saint-Esprit located to the north of the site. For AGORA, it will then be a question of developing a landscaped setting of about ten additional hectares.

In the end, AGORA's ambitious goal of developing a territory in which green spaces and public spaces represent more than 40% of the surface area will be achieved: one of the highest scores among urbanisation projects at European level.

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