Gare Maritime restored in timber splendour
Once Europe’s largest freight station, Brussels’ monumental Gare Maritime is now the largest European CLT project. Neutelings Riedijk Architects have transformed the historic structure into a covered district, giving it a sustainable new lease of life using cross-laminated timber.
Up until the 1980s, the Belgian capital’s Tour & Taxis site was one of Europe’s most important transhipment centres. After this, the early 20th-century industrial site fell into disrepair – together with its Gare Maritime, once famous as the largest freight station on the continent. It was not until the new millennium that developers began to renovate the historic buildings one by one. This resulted in Tour & Taxis winning the European Heritage Europa Nostra Award in 2008. Today, Gare Maritime is being celebrated again: as Europe’s largest cross-laminated timber project.
Sustainable flagship project
There are plenty of lovingly restored railway stations. But this one is far more than just an attractive sight. The new Gare Maritime is being showcased by developer Extensa and the team at Neutelings Riedijk Architects as a prime example of sustainable design. Everything under the elegant steel roof is now made of timber. The station relic has been converted into a “city within a city” – one “where it never rains”. Measuring 280 m long and 140 m wide, the building is now bustling with life again. There are shops, offices, workshops and plenty of space for public events.
The giant building consists of three larger and four smaller halls, all of which are now accessible again. Twelve new structures have been added beneath the existing roofs of the side aisles. This makes 45,000 square metres of total space available for the new mixed-use programme.
The twelve pavilions create a new structure consisting of boulevards and streets, parks and squares. This follows the existing urban context and the building structure in a natural and logical way – just like a real town or city.
Michiel Riedijk, architect and co-founder of Neutelings Riedijk
The central space is for public activities, and its pleasant climate changes with the seasons. There are also green spaces for relaxation: inspired by Barcelona’s La Rambla, magnificent boulevards are perfect for a stroll.
Wide footpaths provide plenty of room for spacious inner gardens with large trees. The aim of the architects was to create an environment that conveys “the feel of a vibrant Mediterranean city where it is pleasant to stroll all year round”.
The diverse green areas were planned by Belgian studio OMGEVING. Its creative landscape architects designed a total of ten gardens based on four themes: forest, flowers, lawn and scent. They selected plants that would thrive in conditions similar to those of a Mediterranean climate. And on the small squares, visitors can linger a while to admire eight mosaics by local artist Henri Jacobs.
Neutelings Riedijk joined forces with Ney & Partners and Bureau Bouwtechniek to construct the new CLT fittings. The façades for Gare Maritime were clad in oak (FSC). Thanks to the timber structure, the amount of cement used was reduced enormously.
Maximum timber, minimum cement
This is good news for the environment: after all, cement production still causes four times more greenhouse gas emissions than global air traffic. It is one of the main emitters. Put it this way: if the global cement industry were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of CO2 worldwide – surpassed only by China and the USA. As well as that, the new Gare Maritime would be five times as heavy if it were made of concrete.
According to Extensa and the architects, opting for timber also shortened the construction time significantly: thanks to prefabrication and dry construction, it was far less than it would have been with conventional materials. The work began in the third quarter of 2018. And the first offices in Gare Maritime had already opened their doors by winter 2019.
The “circular” Gare Maritime
Circularity was also of central importance to the architects: reusing and conserving resources was a priority area throughout. With this in mind, they designed detachable connections and modular timber components.
The new Gare Maritime is energy-neutral and free from fossil fuels. The glass façades on Rue Picard are equipped with solar cells. On the roofs, a total area of 17,000 square metres has been fitted with solar panels.
Clean local energy
Back in June 2020, Extensa announced proudly: “The panels installed by EnergyVision have already produced 1 million kilowatts of power”. They are expected to provide 3 million kilowatts of clean energy every year – enough for 1,150 households. Needless to say, the project also harnesses geothermal energy and uses rainwater to irrigate its gardens.
The existing station building forms the thermal shell, without additional heating and cooling in the pavilions. The latter are provided by twelve geothermal wells that are up to 140 m deep. They are supported by a passive cooling system that uses vaporized rainwater to cool the air that is drawn into the building.
The roof was reinsulated and the giant windows at the sides and ends of the main halls modernized with some 1,633 square metres of sensor-controlled, dimmable Halio glazing panels. The planners felt that mechanical solar control would have spoiled the look of the façade, besides other considerations.
It is only natural that the sustainable renovation of the old Gare Maritime should need substantial groundwork. In the first stage, the historic building was carefully restored by Jan de Moffarts Architects, Bureau Bouwtechniek, Ney & Partners and Boydens. The construction weaknesses associated with the riveted lattice girders and three-hinge trusses were rectified. Following a highly detailed analysis with various scenarios, the building was given a new, sustainable “skin”.
Complex new “inner life”
The next project phase was also far from straightforward. “The biggest problem we faced was to build the new volumes within the historical structure,” explains Extensa project manager Kevin De Neve in UK magazine Building. “To allow for thermal expansion and contraction of the steel structure, we had to leave a 7 cm gap between the two.”
Züblin Timber, the company responsible for the timber construction, also had its fair share of challenges. The buildings are formed around central cores of spruce CLT, with a structure of columns and beams, and floors of CLT panels with glulam ribs.
While glulam ribs made it possible to use unusually long spans for timber constructions, they necessitated a special installation technique at Gare Maritime. Normally the ribs are glued to the panels in the factory but this would have made transporting them to Brussels inefficient.
We aimed to use concrete just for the foundation and floorplate. We used 10,000 m³ of wood and every connection is made mechanically so we can always dismantle them if required.
Kevin De Neve, head of construction at Extensa
As Züblin’s Martin Schimpf explains in Building, on-site production would have been too expensive. So another solution was needed. Accordingly, the team designed a screwed connection that could easily be produced on location. It was even possible to keep to the tight schedule: in twelve months, a total of 10,000 m³ of timber was used.
These are long-resolved complications that the users of the beautiful Gare Maritime will never need to know about. The bright offices and spaces provide a healthy, open working environment.
The inviting pavilions include a ground floor with large oak windows, two floors and a mezzanine under the roof ridge. These individual pavilions are connected by sculptural wooden steps above the inner “streets”.
The building’s modular system means that there is a wide range of possible uses – from offices and workshops to shops and showrooms. And a simple trick prevents the project from turning into a sprawling giant: each pavilion has its own address.
The new Gare Maritime makes a key contribution to the development of the Tour & Taxis location and the city’s Canal Zone. In Building, Thijs Van Roosbroeck from Ney & Partners describes its design as “quite special” for a functional building.
Monumental and well-conceived
The gigantic building has no partitions and gives the impression of being a single structural unit. In reality, it is a series of giant halls, each 276 metres long: “There are three main halls that each have a roof span of around 26 m, with smaller halls in between them”.
Retaining this giant historical complex is not only a shining example of sustainable redesign – it also stands out among the series of recent timber construction projects. After all, wood has been making quite a comeback over the last few years.
Exquisite timber construction
Many other high-profile firms have since joined Neutelings Riedijk in recognizing the benefits of this natural material. This trend is confirmed by spectacular designs by MVRDV, Dorte Mandrup and Henning Larsen. And practical testing is debunking common prejudices against using this renewable resource. With Gare Maritime, the Neutelings Riedijk team has elegantly shown again that timber construction has a bright future once more.
that might interest you
The city of San Diego in Southern California has plans for a new district, one that will be entirely void of cars. Known as Neighborhood Next, it must be one of the most radical projects in the USA.
The new urban quarter Zwhatt near Zurich is designed to enable climate-neutral living at affordable prices. One of its buildings is a 75-metre-high timber hybrid tower known as Redwood, whose facade generates solar power.
Timber construction can be decidedly high-tech, as illustrated by the head office built for SR Bank in Stavanger, Norway. Bjergsted Financial Park offers workplaces that are fit for the future, and it is among Europe’s largest engineered timber buildings.
HafenCity Hamburg is an urban quarter fit for the future. Its eco cherry on the top is the “Null-Emissionshaus” (Zero Emissions Building), which is completely carbon-neutral – and can be dismantled like a Lego house.
What used to be a single-purpose neighbourhood is being transformed into a versatile motor of urban progress: Eindhoven is turning its railway station district in Fellenoord into a buzzing new area where all kinds of innovations are set to flourish.
The eco-friendly residential project Roots will be the new landmark of Hamburg’s HafenCity and the tallest timber high-rise in Germany. Architect Jan Störmer reveals what its future residents will have in common.
The Danish office 3XN is planning to build North America’s tallest timber office building in Toronto. Called T3 Bayside, the complex will offer more than 500,000 sq. ft. of next-generation office space when completed.
Oslo was once built entirely of wood. The project chosen to redesign the area around its railway station heralds the return of this traditional building material to the Scandinavian metropolis. A spectacular office tower with an innovative hub is being developed, named Fjordporten.
Dutch architectural firm Gaaga has designed a residential building in Eindhoven that is distinctly people- and environment-friendly. Surrounded by trees, it is situated in the middle of a park.
An office building is being constructed in Madrid that even does some work itself: generating solar power. More power than it actually needs.
A woodland of man-made and native trees has sprung up in Shanghai, named Solar Trees Marketplace. It even generates its own solar power.
Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and Australian artist Geoff Nees teamed up to design the Botanical Pavilion – a wooden pavilion that is constructed like a 3D puzzle – without using any kind of glue or screws.
Japanese architectural firm UENOA has created a wooden office that has no need for bearing walls. Folded origami-style, the ceiling construction gives a whole new lightness to cross-laminated timber.
In 2021, IKEA will open its most innovative furniture store to date in Vienna. Designed by querkraft architects, the city store will bring cooling greenery to the Westbahnhof neighbourhood. For climate protection, against climate change – and GREENPASS Platinum-certified.
There is a new building taking shape in New Orleans that fits perfectly with two very pressing issues: the new Ochsner Center for Innovation will be devoted to developing modern healthcare solutions. The project, which has already won numerous awards, is geared wholly towards sustainability.
A good four years ago, OXO Architectes and Sou Fujimoto embarked on an adventure called Mille Arbres – a mega-project with a plant biotope over Paris’s famous Périphérique ring road.
Sustainability is a top priority for the Powerhouse Company. In an interview, partner Stefan Prins explains why this means more than just a careful choice of materials and energy efficiency, and how essential it is to consider all the changes brought about by climate change when building.
EU President Ursula von der Leyen wants to put climate neutrality centre stage. The first official related project is called Sunflower House and is based on the internal workings of sunflowers.
The Life Cycle Tower One was the first timber high-rise in Austria and the prototype for a new type of serial construction. CREE founder Hubert Rhomberg explains the green building concept and why we have to learn to think in lifecycles.
Researchers at Cambridge University are helping to turn London’s spectacular vision of a wooden skyscraper into reality. The Oakwood Timber Tower is to rise 300 metres into the sky, almost level with the tallest building in the city.
Milan’s iconic but disused Pirellino office building is to be renovated in spectacular style and renamed Pirelli 39. Its special greenery will even adapt its colours to the passing seasons…
Most people looking for a new home with a sustainable design need to have deep pockets. Rotterdam’s Pendrecht district aims to buck this trend courtesy of timber building Valckensteyn, the brainchild of the architects at Powerhouse Company.
In Düsseldorf, The Cradle is gradually taking shape. The timber hybrid office building is being constructed according to circular economy principles, and these will also govern its future use.
The Dutch city of Eindhoven will soon be home to the world’s highest “plyscraper”. The two towers – 100 and 130 metres high and known as the Dutch Mountains – are to set new standards in high-rise timber construction.
Workplace ahoy! Architecture studio Powerhouse Company has designed a concept for a floating office building. Sustainable, energy-neutral and made of wood, it will serve as the headquarters for the Global Center on Adaptation in Rotterdam as of autumn 2020.
A mixed-use project in Sweden’s Gothenburg is being crowned by star architect Dorte Mandrup. The jewel in this crown is its use of timber. The new eco construction is intended to become an icon in sustainable urban architecture.
Following an initial defeat by the authorities, in the second leg Zaha Hadid Architects managed to gain planning permission for the world’s first timber football stadium.
The ancient Romans used to bathe in healing waters here, and aristocrats from all over the world came to socialize during the Belle Époque. The historic baths in France’s thermal spa resort Aix-les-Bains are now on course for new fame: eco-architect Vincent Callebaut is turning them into a green paradise.