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Friday, June 26, 2009

City of Europe

This week the IHT reported that the EU had recruited French architect Christian de Portzamparc "to devise a comprehensive, 15-year plan" for Brussels "that would not only create new office space but also provide an architectural framework symbolizing the European Union."

Portzamparc said:

"I thought of a big and beautiful idea, that took this historic axis, linking the old and the new. It would be a city of Europe, with lots of periods present. It's a formidable opportunity... I told them it should be like a downtown American city, with three skyscrapers, yes, but with open islands, keeping historic buildings, with pocket parks."

The idea to transform Brussels into the "city of Europe" has been around for a while - but not yet picked up anywhere in the British press.

The Commission calls it “Operation Face-lift”. And the Commissioner in charge says the idea of the project is “to create an urban design with a strong symbolic identity”. They want to more than double the office area occupied by the Commission in Brussels, from 170,000 square metres to 400,000. According to German magazine Spiegel that's 10,000 extra offices for the swelling tribe of bureaucrats, as well as 40,000 square meters of commercial space and 110,000 square meters of apartments. "The idea is that EU administrators can stay in their idyll even after the workday ends. They can shop, go for a beer and even go home to bed all within the European Quarter."

Spiegel notes:

“All of this construction will cost hundreds of millions of euros, possibly even billions. There are no exact numbers for the project at this early planning stage, not even estimates. The necessary funds will be added into the budget later, little by little and in manageable amounts. By then, presumably, today's building dreams will long since be yesterday's decisions and by their own intrinsic momentum they will prevail against any critics and skeptics. So far, at any rate, only a few Members of the European Parliament have even raised an objection to the delusions of grandeur in Brussels.

That is hardly surprising. After all the planners and developers in the Commission, Council and Parliament like to abide by a tried and tested principle: More offices mean more EU.”

We called the relevant Commission department and an official said it is too early to give any estimation of costs, as no concrete proposals for building have been issued. He also said the winner of the competition has teamed up with several other architects to draft a proposal, but they are not receiving any funding by the European Commission. However it’s pretty clear the cost of the building will come out of the EU budget.

The next steps of the project are:
2009: further work on the urban design
2009 – 2011: realisation of a binding urban plan
from 2011: construction of new buildings.

The Commission currently already occupies 61 buildings in Brussels, and a press release from the Commission in March tells us that it spent €206.9 million in buildings in Brussels alone in 2008 – including EUR 77.4 million in rent and EUR 129.5 million in expenditure on property purchases.

According to the BBC, the last renovation of the Commission (the 15-year resurrection of the asbestos-ridden Berlaymont) cost a billion euros.

Spiegel also notes that:

“In addition, the EU Commission has another large-scale construction project in its sights. This one is to be erected four kilometers away, behind the outline of the Atomium, Brussels' symbol from the 1958 World's Fair. There are plans to build a conference center here with capacity for 3,500 visitors, as well as a gigantic shopping mall and Belgium's largest parking lot. The new location would also place a further 300,000 square meters of office space -- an area the size of 40 soccer fields -- at the EU Commission's disposal.”

EUobserver wrote about this in January, and noted that a German MEP had criticised the Commission for secrecy in the decision-making process. She also claimed that one of the Commissioner’s special advisors, Richard Boomer, is a Belgian real estate developer whose partner was one of the authors of the proposal for this project.


Anonymous said...

Presumably only the filthy rich, inclusive of the politicians who are organising the corruption ridden democratically deficient eu will be able to afford to live there, as the costs as with everything eu will be massive.

Carol UK said...

A waste of money - If brussels wants new buildings - let them build and pay for them themselves -- No need for Europe to cover this!

REB said...

Nothing new here,; has just taken a little longer than planned (67 years to be precise).

The last attempt at such lunacy was by Albert Speer, working for that well-known European federalist Adolf Hitler, when he designed 'Germania' to be the new, much grander Berlin. The similarities between that pipe-dream and this one are startling. (Hitler liked studying the vast model of the 'New Berlin' and moving the figures and buildings about, even as our bombs dropped around him).

It will be ironic if the first President to dictate (I use the word deliberately) from this Germania-Look-Alike is the ex-Gauleiter of UK, Tony Blair, the man who sold his country down the river for his own aggrandisement.

Just pray that this one is not built with slave labour/political prisoners as was the plan for its predecessor.