Created by an Act of 2002, the Fonds Belval is a public body responsible for developing the public dimension of the Belval site. University, high school, research labs, cultural spaces, event venues, heritage etc.: for the past 20 years, on the former industrial wasteland, its architects and engineers have been working on developing the State’s public amenities and buildings.
Director of the Fonds Belval since 2021, the Italian architect Daniela Di Santo tells us about the issues, challenges and prospects of such an urban project.
Hello, Daniela. To begin with, can you remind us of the main task of the Fonds Belval, and how it differs from that of AGORA?
Daniela Di Santo: Our main task is to organise the construction of the infrastructure and public amenities in Belval. In addition to AGORA, which is responsible for urban planning, the realisation of infrastructure and site development, and the development of private projects, the Fonds Belval develops land that belongs to the State of Luxembourg. This represents an area of approximately 27 hectares, out of the 120 of the former wasteland.
It should be noted that, since 2015, we have also been responsible for the management of the infrastructure and built heritage. This means that we maintain, modernise and adapt all the buildings constructed over the past 20 years. This is a crucial task, especially as it gives the Fonds Belval and its fifty or so employees long-term involvement.
Let’s get back to the starting point… What was the very first building planned by the Fonds Belval? What do you remember about it?
Our first achievement was the now famous Rockhal, Centre de Musiques Amplifiées. This was an important project as at the time Luxembourg did not have such an amenity on a national scale.
I remember that the inauguration in 2005 was very symbolic: we were bringing the general public to Belval for the first time, while the place was still a vast building site!
The very first concert at the Rockhal, by the British band The Prodigy, was however a memorable one.
So that was almost 17 years ago… What has happened since?
Well, the Fonds Belval has been keeping busy: we now have almost twenty buildings completed! Something to be really proud of. In total, this represents some 290,000 m2 created, for a total investment of 1 billion euros.
Where in particular has the Fonds taken root in Belval?
The flagship venue developed by the Fonds Belval is undoubtedly the Terrasse des Hauts Fournaux. This is a 16-hectare space where the Cité des Sciences was built, a complex with a mix of activities and different audiences around knowledge, research and innovation. These include the University of Luxembourg, public authorities and the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).
This Terrasse des Hauts Fourneaux is also a heritage site…
Yes, as the name suggests, this is where the Hauts Fourneaux (Blast Furnaces) stand, embodying the memory of Belval and the most symbolic trace of its industrial past. For the Fonds Belval it was therefore taken for granted that this heritage element was integrated into the development of the site.
The aim was to celebrate these remains without turning them into museum. We were supported in this project by big names in contemporary design, such as the German designer Ingo Maurer, for the lighting or the architect Michel Desvigne, for the landscaping. The result, it seems to me, is up there with the best!
Linking heritage and contemporary culture will also be on the agenda in 2022, with Esch European Capital of Culture. What is the specific role of the Fonds Belval in this context?
It is fundamental! It is indeed the Fonds Belval that will host this great magnificent event on site. In practical terms, our role is to provide quality spaces and high-performance amenities for the upcoming series of events.
Two buildings in particular have already been completed:
- a sustainable tower that we are building especially for the occasion and which will be the headquarters of Esch 2022. It embodies the architecture of the 21st century: modular, power generating, moveable etc.
- the Skip pavilion, an elegant conference and exhibition space that already exists. Designed around fifteen years ago, it has not aged at all and its mobile principle has enabled us to bring it home to the heart of Belval.
Finally we should mention the Möllerei, a former ore depot, which complements the structure already renovated and intended for the university library (Luxembourg Learning Centre) and where we are finishing the renovation of the last third, or indeed the Massenoire, a technical building which will be completely fitted out by next February. These two buildings will also be dedicated to culture and Esch 2022.
What about the longer term… Does the Fonds Belval have other major projects in the pipeline?
Absolutely. We keep on planning new amenities. The next major project will be the National Archives. These will be the first positive energy buildings built by the Fonds Belval! Their annual energy consumption will be lower than the energy produced.
Other buildings will follow: a sports centre in Belval park; a European school next to the high school; but also housing. To be precise, four towers that will be a real architectural feat: each 39 metres high, they will be entirely built of wood. They will house families but also students.
Please note that we are only halfway through the overall investment. We still have 800 million euros to be committed to the future. In other words, in terms of amenities, the Fonds Belval still has a lot to offer.
“REGARDS CROISES” is series proposed by AGORA with the aim to tell the story of a project since its birth.
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