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A tour of the work site of the future Belle-Vue Hotel Space in Molenbeek

A view of the construction work: on the left, behind the tree, the hotel; in the centre, the training space. - ©ADT-ATO (JPB)

2013-05-16 – Most people will at least have heard of the old Belle-Vue brewery in Molenbeek. Its Gueuze and Kriek beers were highly influential throughout virtually the entire twentieth century. Its adverts with a Brussels accent, with the slogan ‘Au plus que tu la gouttes, au mieux que ça te goutte’ (‘The more you try it, the more you like it’) attracted attention some years ago. And older readers will probably recall that Belle-Vue was the sponsor whose name appeared in the 70s on the shirts of Sporting d’Anderlecht, which, incidentally, the team recently wore once again in early May of this year, during the match against Standard on the occasion of the brewery’s centenary.

And what inhabitant of Brussels can have failed to notice, by the Canal and near the Porte de Ninove, the long redbrick walls, typical of the industrial architecture of yesteryear, displaying the enormous logo of Belle-Vue Brewery?

A site undergoing a thorough conversion

The brewing activity has been relocated, and the site is today in the midst of being restructured. It is so huge that it has been split into three main sections.

One of these, which has been developed by a private promoter and is now operated by an international hotel group, has offered 150 rooms at affordable prices since 1 May. The same promoter is now working on the second part of the site, with its weird industrial architecture.

As for the third part, located at the corner of Quai du Hainaut and Rue Evariste Pierron, the municipality of Molenbeek plans to create a hotel management training centre there, at which it will even be possible for students to put their new skills into practice in a small 29-room hotel currently under construction just next-door. In all, the municipality is investing 8.2 million euros in the project, with support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Federal State and the Brussels Region.

Old stables and malthouse

We visited the site to soak up the atmosphere of the premises. It is something this industrial building certainly has a-plenty…

In 2009, the municipality of Molenbeek acquired the space which had formerly been used for the stables, now replaced by the hotel, and the brewery’s malthouse. The latter presented four spacious floors measuring some 600 m2and a basement. The malthouse walls were carefully cut away to open up two light wells in the front and rear façades. Through the front opening, the entrances will be created that lead to the different spaces in the site. ‘Leading to the basement,’ explains the architect Dyana Chardome, ‘there will be a kind of initiatory descent leading to a hammam. Sealed boxes will be fitted in the enclosed space to recreate the humid atmosphere that you need in the hammam.’

On the ground floor, near the hotel currently under construction in the old stables, the training space will be where students learn the theory that they will then put into practice right next-door. The social economy restaurant, which already exists a very short distance from the former brewery, will also be relocated to premises on the ground floor. The original stairs have been kept, as have several other features of the old brewery: bricks, doors, radiators and so on. Reuse and recycling is the order of the day.

The first floor should house the local training mission, and the second floor will be home to an office of the Molenbeek public social welfare centre. The floor on this level is intriguing. It is not entirely flat: slightly convex floor tiles form structures originally designed to encourage water to drain into larger channels, and thence into downpipes. It’s worth taking a look.

Incredible view of the Canal

The higher you climb in the building, the broader the vista that opens up. Your gaze carries beyond the preserved section of the perimeter wall. ‘We chose to create an opening in this wall,’ the architect explains, ‘in order to mark the entrance to the site. On the other hand, keeping a section of the wall will enable us to create a terrace area which could turn out to be a very pleasant spot later on, a little sheltered from the traffic.’

On the third floor, the view carries far beyond the wall. Your gaze first descends to the Canal before climbing the far bank to new industrial landscapes, and in particular a shot tower where shot balls were made at one time. To the right is the Tour du Midi; facing you are the Law Courts. To the left, you can see the tower of Brussels Town Hall and even the cathedral. The entire city centre can be taken in at a glance. It has not yet been decided how this third floor will be used, but it has already caught the eye of some visitors who would like to have their offices there.

The fourth and final floor is even stranger and more pleasant. The ceiling slopes slightly. On the Canal side, round breaches have been created in the wall to show off the cityscape to even more impressive effect. Visitors instinctively pull out their cameras or smartphones to take a few shots – a sign of how attractive the view from here is.

A strange building

On the left, as you look towards the water, a curious sight catches your eye: the roof of another building in the old brewery. Its shape is unique. The roof is open around its entire perimeter. Inside, it presents an angled structure. This served to improve the building’s ventilation, as did the large openings in the side. The reason for this was that at that time, the lambic that was used to make gueuze was a spontaneous fermentation beer: once it had been mixed, the wort was stored in large cooling vats so that it could receive the air-borne bacteria that would trigger fermentation. This was why special measures were taken to ensure that air circulated throughout the building.

Completion dates in 2014 and 2015

In all, you are left with a very positive impression after visiting the site: situated by the edge of the Canal, in a fast-changing area, ‘L’Espace hôtelier Belle-Vue’ has a lot going for it. And it should have a considerable impact on the district, in terms of generating life and activity, providing training for young people, creating jobs and hosting associations.

The hotel section in the old stables should be completed in summer 2014, while the old malthouse, where training provision will be based, will probably be opened in the first quarter of 2015. As the hotel is a new building, it will meet passive construction standards. The malthouse will be renovated to ‘low energy’ standards.

Jean-Pierre BORLOO