Magazine
MAGAZIN
Gare Maritime restored in timber splendour
#greenbuilding

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.

Gare Maritime restored with timber

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.

Mediterranean flair

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”.

Gare Maritime restored with timber and green space

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.

Successful cooperation

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.

The extraordinary load-bearing structure of the Gare Maritime
Both the load-bearing structure and the diverse garden areas (pictured right)…
Garden areas at the new Gare Maritime
…of the new Gare Maritime help to shape the unique character of the project.

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.

Gare Maritime restored with timber

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.

Clean local energy for Gare Maritime
Wholly sustainable: with its multifaceted concept, Gare Maritime is now a flagship project.

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.

Special glazing

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.

Gare Maritime view from outside
Fittingly restored: Brussels’ historic freight station.

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.”

Inside the Gare Maritime
Timber stairs in Gare Maritime

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.

“Wooden” challenge

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.

Gare Maritime restored with timber
Gare Maritime pavilions in timber

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”.

Gare Maritime stairways in timber
Gare Maritime restored with timber

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.

Drawing of outside view: Gare Maritime
Meticulously restored and modernized, the Belgian capital’s Gare Maritime is far more than just an attractive sight.

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”.

Inside view: Gare Maritime

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.

Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Images: Neutelings Riedijk Architects / Filip Dujardin, Sarah Blee  

Other articles
that might interest you

Where clouds linger
#architecture
Where clouds linger

Shenzhen is set to be home to a museum that should really be built in the sea. Although inspired by bobbing waves, the design ultimately looks like a group of clouds. And the spectacular structure has indeed been titled “Clouds on the Sea”.

Wood with superpowers
#greenbuilding
Wood with superpowers

Architect and biologist Timothée Boitouzet has used nanotechnology to give wood an upgrade. The new material “Woodoo” is translucent, fire-resistant, weatherproof and up to five times stronger than normal wood.

High-tech timber for Norwegian banking
#smart office
High-tech timber for Norwegian banking

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.

In harmony with nature
#greenbuilding
In harmony with nature

So, what does "Noom" actually mean? While Sanzpont [arquitectura] and Pedrajo + Pedrajo Arquitectos don't exactly reveal this, their "Living the Noom" concept is pretty clear: it’s all about a fresh take on housing. With environmental protection and quality of life as a top priority.

Hamburg sets a new benchmark
#greenbuilding
Hamburg sets a new benchmark

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.

Urban apartments off the peg
#greenbuilding
Urban apartments off the peg

Apple’s former design head BJ Siegel has developed a concept for a timber modular house. The urban prefab named Juno is designed for mass production – and hopes for success on the scale of the iPhone.

Village life in the city
#greenbuilding
Village life in the city

Communal vegetable patches, car sharing and a timber building that overtops many others. Sweden’s largest housing cooperative is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a project called Västerbroplan that shows how people will live in the future.

A superlative tree house
#greenbuilding
A superlative tree house

Bearing the name Tree House Rotterdam, Holland’s new landmark-to-be looks like a gigantic stack of wooden shelves with glass lofts added on top. It aims to take the sustainability of timber high-rises to a new level.

Co-housing 2.0
#living
Co-housing 2.0

Three tonnes of lettuce and vegetables annually will be farmed on top of the We-House, a timber construction project in Hamburg’s HafenCity. The on-site restaurant serves meals for residents of this sophisticated eco-house at cost price.

The parametric office
#smart office
The parametric office

The design for the urban office building Saint Denis in Paris shows the potential of parametric design in timber construction. Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is a luminary in this new discipline, and we were able to meet him online.

Vertical allotments for urban farming
#city planning
Vertical allotments for urban farming

Self-sufficiency is no longer a dream reserved for downshifters. The modular building system named The Farmhouse designed by Studio Precht allows residents to grow food in big cities.

Timber pavilion with high-tech design
#greenbuilding
Timber pavilion with high-tech design

Homerton College at the University of Cambridge has chosen the design by Alison Brooks Architects for a pavilion that combines modern timber construction with high-tech facilities. It is expected to be a future-facing answer to their needs.

Green, greener, Växjö!
#greenbuilding
Green, greener, Växjö!

The Swedish university city of Växjö has been named “the Greenest City in Europe”. Half of all its new buildings have been built with timber. But the city plans to go even further.

Timber through and through
#city planning
Timber through and through

The Scandinavians have shown their pioneering strength once again, this time in the design for a new cultural centre. The Sara Kulturhus in Sweden’s Skellefteå is among the world’s tallest high-rise structures built entirely from wood.

The exported timber high-rise
#greenbuilding
The exported timber high-rise

When it comes to timber construction engineering, the United States has been lagging behind other countries. Ascent Tower in Milwaukee aims to change this. Topping out as the world’s tallest timber tower at a height of 284 feet, the building uses expertise and structural elements from Austria.

Shopping inside a timber canyon
#interior
Shopping inside a timber canyon

As many as 40,000 pieces of wood had to be fitted together for the gift shop in the National Museum of Qatar. The inspiration behind this award-winning interior design was supplied by a miracle of nature in Qatar’s desert.

The tallest passive house in the world
#greenbuilding
The tallest passive house in the world

Canada’s Earth Tower aims to outshine all existing timber high-rise buildings. Its energy concept means that this 40-storey skyscraper in Vancouver will be the world’s tallest passive house.

Replacing concrete with earth
#greenbuilding
Replacing concrete with earth

On the edge of the tropical rainforest in Mexico, a research museum will explore how nature and progress can be reconciled. Known as Xinatli, its sophisticated design takes a fresh look at circular building materials.

Back to the roots
#living
Back to the roots

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.

Timber with talent and technology
#greenbuilding
Timber with talent and technology

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.

Back to the future
#city planning
Back to the future

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.

Forest bathing on your doorstep
#greenbuilding
Forest bathing on your doorstep

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.

A design hotel on a bunker
A design hotel on a bunker

The redevelopment of an above-ground Nazi-era bunker is Hamburg’s largest building project since the Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall. With spectacular rooftop gardens and nhow Hamburg design hotel, this new landmark in the heart of the St. Pauli district is sure to become a magnet for visitors.

The tessellated pavilion
#greenbuilding
The tessellated pavilion

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.

The house made by 3D printers
#greenbuilding
The house made by 3D printers

The round construction known as TECLA has created quite a stir. Having teamed up as 3D printing pioneers, WASP and Mario Cucinella Architects have produced the first CO₂-free housing prototype printed entirely from raw earth.

Origami in wood
#greenbuilding
Origami in wood

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.

“Climate change changes everything”
#greenbuilding
“Climate change changes everything”

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.

A timber high-rise goes into production
#greenbuilding
A timber high-rise goes into production

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.

Wood on London’s skyline
#greenbuilding
Wood on London’s skyline

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.

Timber housing on a modest budget
#greenbuilding
Timber housing on a modest budget

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.

All in the name
#greenbuilding
All in the name

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.

Twin peaks for the Netherlands
#greenbuilding
Twin peaks for the Netherlands

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.

New Kiez on the Block
#city planning
New Kiez on the Block

An entire residential complex in Berlin-Kreuzberg is to be built out of timber – vertically. With a planned height of almost 100 metres, WoHo is set to be Germany’s tallest timber building.

Crowned with timber
#greenbuilding
Crowned with timber

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.

Feel-good furniture
#interior
Feel-good furniture

Designed by US architect David Rockwell, built according to WELL Building Standard principles. The Sage Collection by British furniture maker Benchmark is good for humans and the environment.

Plyscraper on Lake Geneva
#city planning
Plyscraper on Lake Geneva

Swiss urban planning combines prominent architecture with ecological timber construction. Lausanne’s Tilia Tower is setting a high standard in future-proof urban development.

A district made of wood
#city planning
A district made of wood

Munich’s Prinz-Eugen-Park is the site of the largest integrated timber settlement in Germany. And that’s not all – the city planners have even more in the pipeline.

Sydney hosts a timber innovation
#greenbuilding
Sydney hosts a timber innovation

The plans just unveiled for the new, 180-metre-high timber tower designed for the Sydney-based software giant Atlassian represent a milestone in environmentally friendly construction using this renewable raw material.

Baptism of fire
#greenbuilding
Baptism of fire

Charred is the new black. An ancient Japanese technique for conserving wood is all the rage in contemporary architecture. As well as looking sophisticated, this building material scores top marks when it comes to sustainability.