Usquare.brussels: SAU extends See U temporary occupation programme

1 February 2021
Velodroom. © Eric DanhierGrand Marché Durable et Créatif. © See UVelodroom. © See UKinograph. © Kinograph

The Urban Development Corporation (SAU) has decided to extend See U, the temporary occupation programme for Usquare.brussels, the conversion project at the former Fritz Toussaint barracks in Ixelles, until March 2022. With the start of the first renovation work on the site drawing near, See U’s activities during these extra 15 months needed to be rearranged.

Significant progress has been made in recent months on Usquare.brussels, the project for the conversion of the former Fritz Toussaint barracks in Ixelles managed by the Urban Development Corporation (SAU). An open, diverse and dynamic district will be created on the site that is urban and welcoming, university-centred and international, sustainable and innovative. The aim is to provide a response to the needs of people in Brussels, especially local residents, for housing and public spaces, and make premises available for an ambitious international project carried out jointly by ULB and VUB. 

The SAU, the Region, the universities and the municipality of Ixelles decided to take advantage of the preparatory phase of the conversion to organise a transitional occupation programme, See U. The objectives were to make temporarily unoccupied spaces available to community-based, non-profit and cultural initiatives; to help bring the site to life; to begin the gradual process of opening it up to the local area; and to avoid the problems associated with derelict sites.

See U: 100% occupancy, more than 350 activities, more than 125,000 visitors

To make good on these ambitions, the SAU implemented an innovative and very open temporary occupation procedure for two purposes: to appoint through public procurement a transitional manager for the entire site (the Creatis / D-Side Group / Troisième consortium), and to select the first temporary occupants for parts of the site by means of a call for expressions of interest (CEI).
Once the necessary permits had been obtained, the See U temporary occupation was inaugurated in April 2019. 
The See U team developed an ambitious programme, reaching a figure of around 100 initiatives once it was up to speed and a 100% occupancy rate for the premises.
Since the opening, more than 350 activities have been organised or hosted on the site, attracting over 125,000 visitors and ensuring the success and fame of the temporary occupation programme. As a result, the SAU and the See U team won a Visit.brussels Award.

Rearrangement of activities on the site

In view of this success, the SAU has decided on a 15-month extension for the temporary occupation, which was originally planned to run until the end of 2020. The Federal Police moves out from the last building they occupies, freeing up space for See U that will partly make up for the space that will be lost in the autumn when the first renovation work starts.
The SAU and the See U team have carried out an objective assessment of all the projects run so far under the temporary occupation and held individual discussions with all project leaders. They did so with a view to carrying out the rearrangement of the activities that is unavoidable given that the total floor space available for See U has decreased from 35,000 m2 to 30,000 m2. The second aim was to give See U more of a focus on those projects that involve local residents in the transition associated with the barracks conversion.

Gilles Delforge, the SAU’s Director, said that he is ‘pleased with the excellent collaboration with the See U team and the quality of its work, which have made the SAU’s innovative idea of organising a temporary occupation programme a real success with the public and the media, inspired other operators and brought See U and the SAU a Visit.brussels Award. I am very grateful to all the See Users who have played an active part in this success, and particularly those currently working with us in the participatory process we have launched for the design of the site’s future public spaces. I’m delighted that the temporary occupation of See U has enabled some great initiatives to get off the ground under favourable conditions. Some of these are actually now leaving the site because they need larger premises – I’m thinking in particular of Billy Bike here. More broadly, I’m happy that the SAU is able to contribute in this way to making the Region’s land and buildings available to the people of Brussels through a variety of temporary occupation programmes: See U in the former Fritz Toussaint barracks since April 2019; MolenWest next to the Gare de l’Ouest railway station since September 2020; and Summer at Josaphat on the site of the former Josaphat marshalling yard last summer.’

For the Creatis / D-Side Group / Troisième Pôle consortium, Edouard Meier described himself as ‘very pleased to be able to continue the adventure of Belgium’s largest temporary occupation. The programme’s continuation will further strengthen ties with the neighbourhood and local residents, support the arrival of the Usquare.brussels project, and further uphold the community and sustainable development values that all the site’s occupants share. During the extra 15 months granted by the SAU, we will focus on the positive interactions that have been initiated with local people by See U, with projects such as Kinograph, Haut les cœurs, Pousse et vous, Hors Categories and Place aux plantes.

Emblematic operations and a programme with a local focus

Among the flagship operations of See U that have spread the site’s name are Velodroom, which was inaugurated at the time of the start of the Tour de France 2019 and now has emblematic stature in the eyes of people in Brussels; the U See Festival organised in partnership with the European Commission, which has led to the creation of 24 monumental frescoes on the site; the U Beer Bazar, a festive gathering of Brussels micro-breweries; Le Grand Marché Durable et Créatif; and Brussels’ first Maker Fair.

Obviously, See U’s occupants have not escaped the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns. Many activities have been interrupted for months, such as Kinograph, which stopped all its screenings from March to July 2020 and has then had to adapt its activities since last autumn, with online sessions, an exhibition and so on. The temporary occupation has shown great resilience, and several project leaders have participated in the surge of solidarity during the crisis. For example, Billy Bike gave free minutes on its shared e-bikes to care workers and other heroes in the fight against Covid, Happy Hours Market supplied meals based on unsold produce to Brussels hospitals, and Hors Catégorie delivered medicines to pharmacies.

The team that manages See U has come up with a new programme to adapt the project to the new situation and further increase the positive impact of the temporary occupation. The new programme, Meet U, has been developed as a label for all See U’s activities aimed at the district surrounding the site. And Meet U is also the symbolic name of the space that will be made available to locals inside See U as soon as possible.

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