Regenerating Crown Barracks - Brussels

Crown Barracks, Brussels

Co-Creating the adaptive re-use of former military barracks based on principles of circular economy.

The Project

The Goal

The goal was to bring university stakeholders together such as relevant administration staff, academics, and students in order to clarify the objectives of the project and develop a common vision for the site. This allows for a constructive contribution to the future of the project and can be used to communicate the main ideas and sketch out the main themes for the architectural tender documents.

Local Task Force

The process was facilitated by OSMOS’ while the leading stakeholder (the institutional entrepreneur) was the Brussels University Alliance. The workshop was focused on both Free universities of Brussels, Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), and included the universities’ technical staff: building management, elected managers (deans and rectors) and general administration; The universities’ academic community with representatives from the schools of: architecture, engineering and sociology; The universities’ student community: interested students (particularly in terms of housing), representatives of student unions, representatives of student housing organisations; Public organisations as well as local authorities: Vivaqua (water provider), the regional planning authority (ADT/ATO), and the Brussels Environment Agency (IBGE).

The Process

The project followed the Transversal Planning process, step by step. Firstly, the Brussels University Alliance (BUA) was engaged to better understand the problem area. Secondly, available background material was researched to identify work done to date, as well as identifying four distinct themes: the relationship between the site and the larger context (the landscape), the collective functions of the building within the context of the neighbourhood (common space), the technical functionality within the context of circular economy (circular flows) and finally the conditions of the accommodation (Privacy). Once the main themes were defined and approved by the project committee, they were developed in detail through interviews, expert and focus groups. The result was used to formulate a hypothesis document and was tested within a half-day workshop. Finally, the outcomes of the workshop were packaged into a vision document that will help with all future communication and work on the site.

Existing Dynamics

The pilot used existing projects as references to frame the project. However, it did not follow a step by step process. One example, the "Citè International Universitaire" in Paris was used more for its differences rather than as a precedent. Other examples used as "warnings" of stakeholder engagement issues include Barking Riverside (London), and the Trent Basin Waterside Development (Nottingham), both featured in TURAS network.

On a political level, the project is embedded within a complex political context with a variety of political parties and distinct objectives. It had to navigate in the political context instead of confronting it as this could result in serious limitations.

On the regional level, the Brussels Crown Barracks is one of the urban development sites that has a special interest in the region of Brussels, therefore it was closely covered by regional planning agencies.


One of the main obstacles that faced the project was the accessibility since the site is under state control and thus, it is almost impossible to enter. The complexity of the land ownership was another obstacle to deal with, as the site is currently under federal government ownership and even though it will be purchased by the regional government on the basis of use by the universities, there is no guarantee that the BUA will have the liberty to develop the site independently. In addition, the different perspectives about the future development of the project presented by different academic partners implied another obstacle, even though it was easier to bring the academic interests together and present one vision. Since one strong voice would deliver an important vision and provide leadership for development on the site. This would prove that not only should the region respect the BUA’s intent to develop the site themselves but also for them to set a precedent on how to develop within this complex situation. The Transversal Planning approach was thus very important in the process.


The Brussels University Alliance (BUA), as a leader in this project, provided several essential resources. For instance, the BUA contributed with the main driver of the project, the sum of €11 million euros. In addition, the university has a wealth of knowledge, that could be harnessed and used far cheaper than hiring consultants. Moreover, because of its positions in the society, the university has the ability to access senior political and administrative contacts. On the other hand, political resources were not available, as the political bodies were uncommunicative to allow for constructive dialogue. At the same time, site related resources such as accessibility to land ownership and site were also unavailable. For instance, the university could not guarantee the ownership of the land as the process was handled by the regional government. In addition, due to the high-security controls on the site, it is impossible to access the buildings and to have an accurate picture of the current condition. This implies that there was a level of uncertainty about how the universities should relate to the Region and how to plan for change.

Strokes of Luck

Brussels University Alliance (BUA) has successfully tendered €11 million euros of the EU Regional funds, which provided them with leverage bargaining tool for the future development of the site.

The Achievements

Short-term Results

A comprehensive vision document that combines concepts discussed with the universities (staff, academics, and students) and external partners.

Long-term Benefits

The most crucial long-term benefit is in the process that was used to bring the stakeholders together in order to give them one strong voice. The process has focused on social sustainability and thus, has increased the value of the project before its implementation. The project also takes into consideration the long-term technical aspects of sustainability (such as electricity, water, waste, and heating). However, implementation depends on a vast range of factors.

Key lesson learned - Adrian explains

"Having a strong vision for your project is essential to achieve your goals, it is sometimes more important than having power but no vision."
Adrian Hill, Osmos