AGORA – When the building feeds the city
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When the building feeds the city

A new concept will soon be born in Belval: "NEST", a building shared by housing, offices... and an urban farm. Its ambition? To give back to the city its ability to sustain life and to the quarter a part of its food autonomy. Gilles Bindels, property developer and partner of AGORA, tells us more.

In Belval, AGORA is partnering with property developers carefully selected for their references and know-how. Gilles Bindels is one of them. The company he founded in 2009, Luxembourg Capital, has long been involved in the development of the site. After the Southlane Towers and the launch of the OMNIA residential complex, Luxembourg Capital is now working on a new concept: "NEST", a building that housing, offices, shops will share with an urban farm! The project will be completed within three years. It is based on a determined ambition: to give back to the city its ability to sustain life and its capacity to produce itself what it consumes. Gilles Bindels tells us more.

As a developer, what attracted you to the AGORA project for Belval?

The site has held our undivided attention from the beginning. It is no coincidence that we were among the very first private investors to become involved with AGORA, back in 2009. The attraction of the site for me is first of all geographical. One third of Luxembourg's population is concentrated in the south of the country. A territory that therefore needs large multidisciplinary hubs like this one, bringing together knowledge, services and housing in a single strategic location. For us, Belval was an obvious choice: we wanted to be part of it!

Your next project is particularly innovative and integrates an agricultural dimension. Could you describe this concept to us?

Absolutely. "NEST" will be a mixed-use building. Our project combines traditional uses (residential, tertiary and commercial) with a new food production function provided by an integrated urban farm. And the aim is? To bring agriculture back to the city. This project clearly appeals to the fundamental values of the Belval site: sustainability, innovation and quality of life. As such, we are very pleased to have gained the trust of AGORA and its planners. Our project is indeed located on a key site, in the very heart of the city in the central Square quarter.

When it comes to integrating nature into the built environment, what architectural philosophy prevails?

The point is not to be spectacular. We are not aiming for the "wow" effect, but rather for the natural: that nature spontaneously integrates into the city and that our building contributes, on its own scale, to the local economic and ecological ecosystem. The work is primarily future-oriented. It's about seeing from outside what works best in each urban agriculture concept. Then implementing our own solution.

In concrete terms, how will the different functions of the building coexist?

The building has a total gross floor area of almost 14,000m2. It will include 60 good sized apartments, 2,000m2 of offices, and shops on the ground floor. For the urban farm, we made a clear choice: not to put it right up on the roof, but in the heart of the building, on the first floor. The idea is to make it visible from the street, so that it appears in the urban landscape. Passers-by and the quarter must see it live and produce.

The concept is not limited just to residents…

With "NEST” the objective is to create added value for the entire quarter. For example, we will have a shop on the ground floor, accessible to everyone, which will sell the farm produce. We are also considering a catering solution, with dishes made from this local produce. Finally, in order to promote local agriculture, we would like to sell fresh produce from local farmers in this shop. It is a way to promote buying local and to reconnect urban consumers with the people who feed them.

Who did you have to support you to carry out this project?

First of all, there is M3, a well-known architectural firm in Luxembourg, which was responsible for the fourth extension of the European Court of Justice and the BGL BNP Paribas banking centre in Kirchberg. There are also competent partners on the "farming" side, such as Green SURF, a Belgian consultancy specialising in urban agriculture. The technical issues are crucial here: what types of plants to grow, what infrastructure for the farm (open ground or hydroponics), etc.

In your opinion, can we say that “urban greening" is finally underway?

It's an emerging trend, that's true. The property sector is facing a growing societal demand for greener living and for cities that are closer to nature. Environmentally ambitious projects are therefore attractive to planners. This being said, a concept like ours, with residential and agriculture sharing the same space within the building, remains quite pioneering! AGORA trusted us and supported this project. We are very proud to be able to develop it.

See you in 2023 for the start of the workof the "NEST" in Belval.

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