Leopold district, a new design for the European part of Brussels

How to talk about Brussels without mentioning its central play in the European administration.

To understand the root of Brussels as European Capital, we have to go back in time. In 1951, the Treaty of Paris gave birth to the first European community, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), starting point of the European Union.

In 1957, two new European Communities were established : the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. They both needed headquarters. The Val Duchesse castle, located in Brussels and liked by the men of authority at that time, was unofficially chosen until European experts proceeded to the appointment of the host metropolis.

Being a serious challenge, the belgian government kept its planning efforts, building large office spaces in the west part of Brussels, in Leopold district. Those places were quickly used by the European functionaries.

In 1965 with the Treaty of Brussels then in 1992 with the European Council of Edimbourg, the status of Brussels as European Capital was generally accepted without being officialy passed. The urban strenghts of Brussels finally convinced the European experts.

Human-sized metropolis, its life quality is satisfactory. It has all the public transportation infrastructures required. Its location makes it central in the European main operators’ network. Brussels displays both cultural and economic dynamism and openness to the world. A high qualified workforce comes from the numerous private school and universities of the city.

As a result, the Leopold district, main district of the European administration, deeply changed. Local authorities had to take quick planning decisions in order to fit with the demand of offices coming from the European functionaries, the international companies’ headquarters and the lobbying offices concerned to be as close as possible of the European executive.


That large planning program, not always well structured, changed Leopold district from a high level residential area into a zone dedicated to the European Union’s administration. Some buildings symbolize that transformation as the Berlaymont, Headquarters of the European Commission, built instead of the convent of the nuns of Berlaymont.

In order to restore district’s life and soul, the Government agreed, in april 2008th, with the master plan of the European district established under the supervision of Marie-Laure Roggemans, Delegate of the Region Brussels-Capital for the development of the European Quarter.

The master plan runs with 5 main principles which are environment with the creation of an eco-district, a plurality of possibilities in the choice of its mobility, the return to a multifunctional space, a generic use to architectural contests in the district’s design and a promotion of the touristic and cultural offer available.

That project is a great opportunity for the Region of Brussels-Capital to implement an attractive urban strategy. The international visibility coming from the European district gives the opportunity to the belgian metropolis to promote dynamics of its territory. In the end local authorities target both new developers and the enhancement of its inhabitants’ life quality.

That ambitious project will be based on 12 planning programs.

One of them holds people’s attention, the urban project Loi desgined by the architect Portzamparc.


Enclosed in a zone stigmatised by unfriendly administrative buildings and the rue de la loi, become a urban motorway, that space has been planned as a model of eco-district with no gas emission (source : l’avenir.net). A mass transit – tram or metro – has been programmed requiring a reduction of the roadway. Operators hope that it will relieve the traffic congestion on the rue de la loi.

Missing in the current Europe district, the urban diversity is a main feature of the coming planning program. New proportions will shape the urban setting of Leopold district – 80% offices, 15% housing and 5 % services – restoring a content to the district.

Driving project, the urban program loi will be used as « catalyst of a new development of the European district » (source : ADT-ATO Brussels), contributing to give it back to a human size.

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