AGORA – Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux, a symbol of the past which has become a flagship quarter
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Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux, a symbol of the past which has become a flagship quarter

Concentrated from the industrial history of the Belval site and a powerful symbol of its rebirth through the knowledge industry and through a concept of urban diversity, the Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux is one of the vibrant centres of Belval. The history of its conception is far from being a peaceful flowing river.

They can be seen more than 10 kilometres away. The closer you get to the blast furnaces, the more spectacular their shimmering cylindrical structures and sky-scraping cages appear. And yet they remain a model of sobriety of its type. There has been no reduction in number of pipes in which the eye gets lost, nor too smooth a clean-up, nor harsh treatment of the original materials, the structures have simply been covered with an elegant varnish that brings out their natural shine.

At their feet, the City of Sciences, Research and Innovation. It houses the campus of the University of Luxembourg in Belval. It has enabled the quarter to position itself as a Luxembourg and European scientific centre and to develop a unique life, punctuated by the comings and goings of students. Cultural events are a natural addition to it.

A series of twists and turns

Before taking on its final appearance, the Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux was envisioned more broadly, in the master study plans, as a "space designed to accommodate culture, services, gastronomy, leisure and sport", which was to be structured around a "green belt".

In 1997, the Green representative for Dudelange, Robert Garcia, had even developed a proposal for a regional park that had never been implemented: the “la Minett Economic and Natural Park". For its author, the aim was to combine the enhancement of industrial and natural heritage with new "sustainable" economic activities.

These initial reflections were before the Luxembourg State drew up the ambitious City of Science project, which would later become the structuring heart of the blast furnace site in the masterplan presented in 2000 by the Cologne architecture and urban planning firm Dewey & Müller. In order to carry out its programme, the Luxembourg State then acquires the necessary land (27.34 hectares) from AGORA. At the same time, it will create its own tool for action, the Belval Fund with its first task to take charge of the construction and management of the buildings of the City of Science.

The Dewey & Müller project will be refined by the Maastricht firm Jo Coenen & Co after an international urban planning competition. The final masterplan will then be presented by AGORA. The role of blast furnaces will then be clarified. As "Monuments in the City", they will play a central role in the development of Belval and will give it its image.

2002: AGORA launches the first spectacular works on the site. The silos are demolished. Intertwined structures are scrapped. The foundations of the old buildings are excavated. The railway line linking various ArcelorMittal plants is moved. Remediation work is under way. Three years of hard work led by AGORA. But the result is there: the construction of the buildings can begin. It will be the Rockhal construction site.

Three scenarios for the blast furnaces

Before building too much, there is one question that causes a lot of discussion. How can we make the most of the blast furnaces? From one extreme to the other, all scenarios have been considered before the current configuration was decided on.

The first scenario proposed was radical and envisaged as much of the old industrial structure as possible being preserved, almost without intervention.

The second, on the contrary, suggested a minimalist approach in which only the silhouette of the old installations would have been preserved, mainly visible especially from a distance.

In the end, the third approach was agreed upon and adopted by the government in 2005: the first blast furnace is better preserved, to accommodate, among other things, a national documentation and exhibition centre on the industrial history of Luxembourg, while only elements of the silhouette of the second furnace are preserved.

A project turned into reality

Students and teachers from all over the world are now evolving in this out-of-the-ordinary urban environment, buzzing with many languages, where brains are fizzing with new innovative ideas. 

The University of Luxembourg has set up its main campus and administrative services in Belval. With more than 6,000 students from 125 different countries, 850 associates (scientists and researchers) and 242 teachers, it was indeed necessary to think big and aim high. This is a done deal since September 2015, when the first academic year started on the brand new campus.

The Belval campus, made up of several “Houses (Maisons)" designed to accommodate the various faculties (the Maison des Sciences Humaines or the Maison de l'Ingénieur, for example), is structured around the blast furnaces, with some buildings nested within them, others facing them or located nearby, on all sides.

Complemented by numerous research and innovation centres such as the Business Incubator, the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) or the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), the City of Science also has other public facilities. The Rockhal, a huge concert hall seating 5,400, coupled with a small hall seating 800, was the very first structure open to the public in Belval, on 19 June 2005. 

The State is not alone there

Private investors have not been outdone in the quarter: the Banque Internationale à Luxembourg (BIL) was the first to announce its development by establishing a new administrative complex in Belval. The Terres Rouges building looks great. Only a few metres from the blast furnaces, its steel structure recalls the colours that so well characterise the southern region.  A fine tribute.

Soon other developments will follow: the imposing Belval Plaza shopping centre, the Feierstëppler building with its hotel. Last but not least, the quarter is now taking its final shape with the construction of the Omnia Tower residential tower, the erection of the "Icon" office building designed by the famous London firm Foster+Partners, and soon the start of work on the National Archives entrusted to the Belval Fund.

On the Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux, the walker will quickly notice the consistency of the landscape design: a unique dark paving brick floor, water features that beautifully reflect the industrial remains and winter gardens adding a touch of greenery to a resolutely urban site.

A very stimulating universe, where ancient and modern, arts, knowledge and business are harmoniously combined.

"REGARDS CROISES" is series proposed by AGORA with the aim to tell the story of a project since its birth.

Discover all the articles of this series by clicking on the tag below.