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A walk around the European Parliament

April 11, 2011

Guided tours (like the ones in Sofia and Almeria) and random walks (like the one in Paris) are a rather privileged way to experience a city. It means having more time to spend in and a preferential access to some places. The usual way to experience a city is to go from one place to another for some purpose: going to work, to school, to visit something or someone, to go shopping or anything else. Some days ago I was attending a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, a rather famous place so that it has renamed the neighborhood, the so-called European Quarter, with a lot of talk about all over Europe. Instead of waiting half an hour for a taxi I decided to walk from my hotel back and forth, to see how the city  around the European Parliament looks like from the pedestrian point of view.

The hotel is located between the quite elegant and exclusive Avenue Louise and Ixelles, a nicely mixed neighborhood of Brussels or, more precisely, one of its 19 Communes.

On the top of the street there is the Belgian foundation for architecture and landscape  CIVA where you can easily find nice little exhibitions, have a coffee, buy at the bookstore or read some in the well furnished and open access library.

Streets are generally clean and well maintained. Street furniture is varied: some recent pieces in art nouveau style coexist with some random fittings occupying walkways without real justification.

Pedestrian  signs provide a great help to walking people like me. They give you the feeling to be independent in finding your own way, they are discrete, not intrusive and well placed at the main crossroads.

The urban fabric has been subject to some radical replacement projects which in the meanwhile are – at least functionally and visually – more or less integrated.

In some streets the ground-floor is occupied by every kind of small shops and restaurants.

Now and then there are still development projects on hold…

and creative people well accommodated in the foldings of the economic mainstream.

A technical high school with an elegant entrance in front of a nice and comfortable little square.  In the picture  it is empty, but on my way back in the afternoon it was crowded with students.

Almost arrived at Place de Luxembourg, the main access to the Parliament premises. Across the street you see one of the buildings occupied by the DG Research of the Commission.

It is definitely an old-fashioned ’70 office building with its bronze mirrored curtain wall, but it is well maintained and fits in the urban fabric, so that it does no harm at all.

Place de Meeus marks the beginning of the European quarter. A tiny and precious garden squeezed among heavy traffic, modern high-rise and historical buildings.

Peak-hour pedestrians flowing to the European buildings across Place de Luxembourg.

The recently accomplished entrance to the European Parliament from Place de Luxembourg features a large pedestrian square with curved glazed bridges and grey stone, stainless steel and glass facades.


A view from the pedestrian plaza inside the Parliament’s building.

Under the bridge-building I get through to another access to the Parliament where taxis are waiting in a row.

Another multi-storey sky-walk connects two sections of the Parliament’s premises.

From Leopold park the buildings looks like a spaceship landed in a Nineteenth Century urban park.

This is not a photomontage.

Luckily Leopold Park and its historical buildings, a.o. the Solvay Library, the Solvay School of Commerce and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science,  has the dimension and the strength to face and balance the new buildings. The comparison among old and new is somehow worrying, but I think that also the historical buildings are contemporary, they are not another but the same side of this European coin.

Unfortunately the premise I am going to is outside the park, I have to jump again into the traffic, for a short walk.

A long row of public bicycles marks the entrance to the Borschette Centre  where I will spend the day.

On may way back I like to change the route a little bit, but first I want to cross Leopold Park again.

Behind the huge Paul-Henri Spaak building there is also a basketball and football pitch with few kids playing.

Seen from the other side the skyline is a shiny example of the collage city.

Every new building is connected to the adjacent one with sky-walks so that the European officers do not have to lose time or mix-up with ordinary people on the streets.

With all these sky-walks no wonder that the pedestrian plaza is empty and, due to the grey granite stone, it clearly reminds a large-scale cemetery.

with multilingual engravings.

Coming to Place de Luxembourg, despite the heavy traffic, I have the impression to go back to life!

Office building do not have to be heavy and monotonous.  This is the seat of a famous multinational dutch bank.

Back in Ixelles, the discordance with the European Quarter is evident, but the two part  take advantage of each other.

Lively walkways and unconventional public space design with friendly atmosphere.

On my way back I wanted to pass by Place Flagey, the former national radio and orchestra building with recently realised underground parking

On the side of the Flagey building there is the entrance to la Cambre, one of the architectural schools of the city.

the Cafe Belga

The new tram station with its trees allegory and a flat glass covering that will never be transparent as it was meant to be.

One of my favourite buildings between Flagey and Avenue Louise

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