To take full advantage of the excellent accessibility of the Gare du Midi railway station – probably one of the most accessible places in North-West Europe across all transport modes – in order to develop job-creating activities there in low-impact traffic conditions, without local and international development occurring at the expense of housing and of life in the surrounding areas: such are the goals of the Midi Master Plan.

The Gare du Midi district has experienced a number of radical urban developments, one effect of which has been to isolate the station from its immediate environs and separate neighbouring districts from one another: the station’s relocation outside the city walls in 1864; the bringing into service of the Nord-Midi Link in 1952, with the demolition of the historic railway terminus and the fragmentation of public space by the creation of a viaduct crossing the old station square; the construction of the Tour du Midi, completed in 1967; the deindustrialisation of Cureghem after the war; the departure of the Côte d’Or factory; and the station’s partial refurbishment in 1990 with the arrival of the TGV (for more details, see the ‘History’ section).

Since the start of this decade, the Midi district has seen a profusion of large real estate and transport projects which need to be incorporated into the framework of a master plan. The main challenges facing the district are: opening up the station to the surrounding area; the introduction of facilities for the city as a whole but also for the local community; harmonious commercial development inside and outside the station; the transformation of public space to ensure high quality of use and an attractive environment; the injection of fresh vitality by generating more activity in street-level premises; the minimisation of the urban barrier created by infrastructure (the railways and the inner ringroad) and buildings (especially Bloc 2 on Place Horta); and finally the need for systematic efforts to ensure social and functional diversity.

Five approaches to revitalising the district

The project’s urban design has been developed with reference to five main approaches for the revitalisation of the district, presented below.

1. A landscape-based approach

The project is uses a landscape-based approach that emphasises the Gare du Midi district’s position within the broader geographical setting of the Senne valley, which should be made more visible. The focus is on the north-south axes, emphasising links with the city centre in particular. In this way, the landscape design will help restore coherence and a clear orientation to the area, by contrast with the existing buildings which have tended to disorient passers-by.

2. Public space

The landscaping approach will put public space at the centre of the project design. The Midi district will be reconceptualised as an ‘exchange platform’: an extensive area with integrated facilities, mainly for use by non-motorised transport, forming the key to the district’s overall visibility.

3. Extensive ‘sub-face’ space

Because of the presence of the station, the overhead railway lines and the largely underground intermodal hub, the district is characterised by numerous ‘sub-face’ spaces (under the railway lines and underground) which require sensitive treatment in both urban planning and architectural terms. The project organises the relationship between these different levels, gives careful consideration to the issue of lighting and with the station lobby organises a generous space offering visible and clear links with all modes of transport available in the station. This lobby space enlarges the area of the station towards the present Rue Couverte and helps restore visibility to it by highlighting the mobility function above all else.
4. Urban form

The urban form is conceptualised at two levels, expressed in the high and low skylines. The high skyline links the district at citywide level; the low skyline is about the connection with the street, with ground-floor activities and with the wealth of interrelationships that can be established between the buildings and public space.
5. Two timeframes

The project is divided into two parts corresponding to two operational timeframes (2018/2020 and 2025). The first part consists of the various transformations that can be initiated quickly, helping to bring about a rapid image makeover for the district: the definition of new purposes for the Grand and Petit Quadrilatères (the spaces under the railway lines and under the inner ringroad); Brussels Mobility’s Constitution project (the conversion of the pre-metro into a metro line and the creation of an underground stretch of tramway under Avenue Fonsny); the Victor (Atenor/BPI) and Fonsny (SNCB-NMBS) real estate projects; adjacent public spaces, etc.