Brussels and its heritage in the face of climate change

Etangs d'Ixelles et église Sainte-Croix

Let's discuss a sometimes delicate, but highly topical issue: that of the city's heritage and its relationship with the climate.

Urban planning and the city in general are adapting to the new requirements in this area in various ways. But in concrete terms, what does this mean in Brussels?

First thing's first, let's go for a walk in the Sonian Forest!

That impressive green area covers all three of Belgium's regions. Did you also know that it is listed - in part - as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Developed at the end of the 18th century, it now covers 4,400 hectares. The hundred-year-old beech trees that make up the majority of the forest are being harmed by climate change. In the coming decades, it will be necessary to diversify the tree species by favouring those that are more resistant to the expected changes, such as the sessile oak and the lime. 

Since 2015, the Sonian Forest has also been a designated "Natura 2000" area, a European network of natural or semi-natural sites where efforts are made to maintain the diversity of the natural environments and improve their quality. 

The Sonian Forest is also one of Brussels' treasures, packed with places to discover, each one more beautiful than the last! The former Hippodrome in Boitsfort, Rouge-Cloître, Tournay-Solvay Park, the Bois de la Cambre, the Memorial to Foresters who died in the Great War, the memorial to the victims of the 2016 terror attacks, the Trois-Fontaines Castle, the AfricaMuseum, etc. You'll never get tired of it! 

Parc Tournay-Solvay

   

Let's head for Tour & Taxis!

This gigantic site is a new hub of activity in Brussels, with a mixture of old and recently built buildings, not to mention its vast green spaces. Originally a customs clearance and goods storage complex, the site has been undergoing steady renovation for several years now. Did you know that one of the emblematic buildings of the site is called the "Gare Maritime" and that it used to house the rail convoys? Having been renovated, the building is now a benchmark for sustainability. The simple fact that most of the historical elements have been restored is already proof of environmental concern, not to mention the massive use of wood in the interior design. The installation of 17,000m² of solar panels - which make it possible to do without fossil fuels - and the installation of the Halio glazing system, which automatically tints the windows according to the light and heat, are further proof of this commitment to the environment. 

So why not go for a stroll, it's a place of rare magic!

Intérieur gare maritime

   

Let’s continue on our tour to the garden cities!

Are you really familiar with the garden city concept? You might have already passed through such a district in Brussels, without knowing? These neighbourhoods are designed differently to the rest of the city, on its borders, with a much greater emphasis on nature, small, winding streets with little traffic, slightly standardised houses and a very special feeling of serenity...

These districts were, for the most part, developed in the 1920s. The intention was to provide a comfortable place to live for the less privileged, with all modern facilities, in an environment that was both close to the city - important for the workers who worked there - and at the same time reminiscent of the countryside through its tranquillity and the integration of abundant vegetation.

The best known of Brussels' garden cities is the Logis and Floréal garden city in Watermael-Boitsfort, in the south of Brussels. But Brussels has more than 30 garden cities, all of which are worth a visit! You'll often be surprised by the soothing atmosphere of these places, which can contrast with the very urban atmosphere that surrounds them. Admire the trees and their sumptuous flowers, or the architectural style, which, in some cases, is very pronounced and homogeneous.

In recent years, many of them have undergone major renovations. The buildings were ageing and, in many cases, authorities decided to take the opportunity to improve their energy performance. Some of these houses are used as social housing. 

Cité-jardin Logis-Floréal

   

Did you know that Brussels' old buildings are also becoming more energy-efficient?

As you know, the energy efficiency of buildings has become a top priority for the construction sector... with the aim of drastically reducing energy requirements. Did you know, for example, that the Brussels-Capital Region took the pioneering step of imposing passive standards on all new builds in 2015? The headquarters of Bruxelles-Environnement, sometimes referred to as the "toaster", in Tour & Taxis, and the Astro Tower, near Madou, are examples of this!

Older buildings are also undergoing efforts to improve their energy consumption. Some of the buildings on the famous Grand-Place had their attics carefully insulated in 2011; the buildings of the Court of Auditors and the Royal Palace, emblematic sites in the upper part of the city, are scheduled to undergo energy efficiency improvements by 2025! Brussels' Palace of Justice too, will have its facades completely restored - and by 2030, the scaffolding should be dismantled, no, you're not dreaming! - with particular attention paid to the issue of energy loss through window frames. This shows that even listed heritage buildings can be adapted to meet the requirements of the future...