West 8, an urban design and landscape architecture firm based in The Netherlands, has transformed the former industrial site Vaartkom in Leuven, Belgium, into a vibrant new urban center that combines living, working and production. Working in collaboration with Snoeck en Partners, Dirk Jaspaert of BAS, ERM, Betonac and Tritel, the Rotterdam-based studio drew inspiration from the area's industrial past to create an urban esplanade complete with several terraces and green spaces that reintroduce usability to this formerly derelict location.
The site is part of the old industrial district, known as Vaartkom, located within walking distance of the city’s historic core. Hidden under a ring road viaduct and surrounded by industrial blocks on the northern banks of Vaartkom, the canal and the Keizersberg, Engels Plein was derelict for years as a rundown urban leftover. After winning the competition to redesign this stretch of land back in 2010, the team started implementing their vision which was based on moving the roadway under the viaduct and establishing a new green zone in the area.
This new plan reintroduces vehicular traffic under the flyover and forms a visually appealing landscape, while keeping the north banks of the Vaartkom and the square in front of OPEK as a car-free zone. Engels Plein is now home to 65 trees, some up to 50 feet tall, and an elevator which connects to the to the adjacent Keizersberg Abbey Park.
The newly introduced greenery serves multiple purposes-it creates an unexpected landscape under the viaduct and migitages pollution and minimizes excess stormwater run-off. The new roundabouts, bus routes, cycling and pedestrian paths all contribute to the renaissance of Engels Plein as a public space that has finally been returned to the city inhabitants. The square was officially opened last month and is already claiming its role as catalyst of urban regeneration and growth.
Photos courtesy of Stad Leuven