Justice for all

site Poelaertplein 1, 1000 Brussels, BE
client Belgian Buildings Agency (Regie der Gebouwen), Gulden Vlieslaan 87, 1060 Sint-Gillis, BE
team O. Bogdan, T. Boogaerts, M. Czvek, T. Rigby, M. Steel Lebre, A. Sümeghy, L. Van Broeck, M. Valério
consultant Jan Verheyen
surface 260.000 m² gross
timing competition 2010
status competition, selected for the exhibition
website www.internationalgeographic.be
project code 0054JUS


Maybe time, and not space, should be seen as the primary context of architecture. Time involves change. For a building to be alive it must admit to change. As this is valid for all buildings, so it is for monuments. Listing a building is not a kind of taxidermy. Listing a building does not mean we want to keep it just the way it is; it means we want to keep the building alive. Therefore we have to allow it to change in a controlled way.

The Brussels Palace of Justice became a radiant, glorious and sublime absurdity. The cost of maintenance and its inefficiency are as exuberant as its spaces. It embodies everything about justice as it was and allows little margin for justice as it should be: modern, secure, efficient, human and with a low threshold. We are convinced that Brussels, being the capital of the continent, deserves – more than any other region in Belgium – to receive a new contemporary courthouse, very close to the existing one and to all the related juridical and political functions in the neighbourhood. In our publication “International Geographic”, you will find an article on how and where this could be organised.

We do want to save The Palace of Justice. But it became far too expensive to be maintained only with public money. Its lack of efficiency on the other hand will make it difficult to fully privatise it in a profitable way. Therefore we propose one of the biggest Private Public Partnerships ever. The building will be partly public and partly private. The panorama seen from the ring of the cupola will become a tourist attractor. Inside mainly functions that don’t need daylight conditions and that flourish on exuberance and the excess of space are welcomed: large museum halls, luxury hotels, a casino, a shopping mall, a wellness, an auditorium, etc. In the bibliography at the end of the magazine, the caring reader will find many examples of the successful public-private transformation of monuments.

But, a lot more important than the new functions of the building itself, is the condition and the quality of the public space surrounding it. If we want to save this building, alter its perception but limit the changes within the building itself, we must change its position in society and totally rethink its public space. We propose to extend the Poelaert Square not only next to the building but also inside: public space is transformed into one continuous park, a flow of semi-mineral and semi-green spaces, closely related to new cafés, restaurants, shops and the other new functions. Parts of the building are to be kept, others to be changed or demolished. Of course we keep the central core, the “Salle des Pas Perdus” and the dome; we keep the volumes along the perimeter and the beautiful spatial internal sequence of the stairs going down to the Marolles. But it will be inevitable to also un-list parts of the building to allow for a new life, for new conditions, for more public space with bigger green courtyards and inner gardens. This way, the building will transform into a high quality city fragment that never sleeps. We believe it is a noble cause to activate the market and stimulate it to help the government to save our cultural heritage in an ambitious, contemporary, durable, culturally meaningful and metropolitan way. We are also convinced that this is what Europe stands for in relation to other large markets on the planet: a careful and very human balance between the free market and government intervention. This is the international mission statement that might emanate from this building that speaks to the whole world. Because the scale of the building is that big that its geography is not local, nor national, but international – which explains the title of the magazine “International Geographic”.
We felt compelled to look for an answer for the future of the Palace of Justice, because monuments today force us to deal in the best possible way with inevitable accelerated change and ongoing globalization. Beyond the question of the monument itself, we are challenged to reflect on who we are and what is our position concerning evolution and cultural fusion on a planetary scale. The content of this challenge is amplified by the basic questions about survival and sustainability. Maybe, in order to preserve all that we love, we will need the courage to change everything…