Brussels Region unveils future integrated support centre for drug users
On Tuesday 12 October, the Brussels-Capital Region joined with the mayors of the City of Brussels and the municipality of Molenbeek Saint-Jean, Philippe Close and Catherine Moureaux, in unveiling the plans for the future Integrated Centre for Vulnerable Drug Users. The Integrated Centre, to be built by the Canal opposite Tour & Taxis by 2026, will receive 12.3 million euros of funding under a regional subsidy for the Centre and for the developments earmarked for the Port of Brussels. Brussels Prevention and Security (BPS) is overseeing the design and the definition of the Centre's operational roles, drawing on the expertise of the regional operator in the field of addiction, the non-profit organisation Transit asbl. A consortium consisting of the architecture firms Bogdan Van Broeck and BC Architects & Studies, combined with a multidisciplinary team (see below), was selected following the public procurement process for the design of the building organised by the Urban Development Corporation (SAU), which is responsible for its construction.
The new building will be constructed at 55 Avenue du Port, next to the headquarters of the Port of Brussels, which will also have premises in the building. The new structure (following the demolition of two disused buildings: see photos above) will have an approximate total floor space of 5,000 m²: just over 4,000 m² for the Integrated Centre and nearly 1,000 m² for the Port.
An innovative facility for the benefit of vulnerable groups, the local area and social cohesion
The Region plans to open the Integrated Centre for Vulnerable Drug Users in 2026. This step is the first in a long journey to the opening of the building. The authorities are giving careful thought to its integration into the life of the local community. The completion of the project will therefore be preceded by an extensive information campaign aimed at local residents and key players in the district (local stakeholders, non-profit organisations, etc.), providing the opportunity for long-term discussions on a regular basis. In this context, the project’s partners in the fields of healthcare, prevention and security (police, the courts, park wardens, doctors, psychologists, community workers, etc.) are working together to organise and support this process.
The Minister-President Rudi Vervoort, one of whose areas of responsibility is Security, underlines: ‘This Integrated Centre for Vulnerable Drug Users is a regional project in response to contemporary challenges associated with social changes: health, social vulnerability and the need to improve public spaces and public safety. The project, on which all actors in the prevention and security sector are working in coordination (police, the courts, park wardens, community workers, etc.), is positioned as an innovative facility contributing to social cohesion in the local area. It offers hope that the well-being of vulnerable groups can be improved and offers positive prospects for the local area, because it contributes to the achievement of the Brussels-Capital Region’s ambitions and objectives in terms of both architecture and social cohesion.’
Rudi Vervoort points out that ‘this project is explicitly mentioned in the 2019-2024 Majority Agreement, in the chapter on “Ensuring access to health and combating inequalities”, paragraph 3, “Universal access to health care”. The government has undertaken to implement a proper risk reduction policy for potential consumers or users of drugs (including alcohol). With this in mind, the government will support the creation of supervised drug consumption facilities through this new integrated centre to be operated by the non-profit organisation Transit asbl.’
Alain Maron, Minister for Health and Social Action, notes: ‘In July, an ordinance was passed relating to the approval and subsidisation of active services reducing the risks associated with drug use. This text is an important step in supporting people with addiction and helping them to recover. By offering psychological, medical and social care to its users, the Centre will enable them to regain a life of dignity and their place in society.’
A tangible achievement of the General Security and Prevention Plan
Yves Bastaerts, Deputy General Director of Brussels Prevention and Security (BPS), explains: ‘This project is fully in line with the security and prevention policies defined in the General Security and Prevention Plan. Brussels Prevention and Security devotes a specific section of the plan to this important issue for the Brussels-Capital Region. The use of drugs and more generally the spread of addiction are one of the public health issues at the heart of urban security, being relevant to both anti-social behaviour and people’s perceptions of their living environment. By focusing on appropriate and coherent care for those concerned, the Integrated Centre for Vulnerable Drug Users provides an opportunity to forge links within the Brussels-Capital Region by creating a friendly living environment and safe public spaces for local residents and the people of Brussels more generally. As a centre of expertise in prevention and safety issues, Brussels Prevention and Security also aims through this project to refine knowledge in the field of drug addiction in Brussels. The sharing of practices at the Centre should generate data and analyses that can be used to build a coherent drug and addiction policy that is suited to the needs of the most vulnerable.’
Ensuring health and safety for all
In the view of the Mayor of the City of Brussels, Philippe Close, ‘Alongside Gate, the supervised drug consumption facility that will be accessible from the end of the year in the centre of Brussels, the Integrated Centre is an example of complementary care provision, the aim being to put forward an innovative, dignified and inclusive policy on the issue of drug dependency. However, our role of providing the most vulnerable people with access to healthcare is entirely consistent with our concern to guarantee the safety of the general public. Drug use in public spaces is disruptive and exacerbates local residents’ feeling of insecurity. For the sake of social cohesion, we must act for the good of all. I am convinced that by creating the Integrated Centre with the regional authorities, we are working in this direction. The investments made in these new facilities will help improve the living environment of everyone in Brussels without leaving anybody behind.’
According to the Mayor of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Catherine Moureaux, ‘The many issues relating to the use of drugs throughout the Brussels regional territory are constantly evolving. In recent months, for example, both professionals and residents alike have noticed new changes in this area, following the Covid crisis in particular. As someone involved in the running of the municipality, I keep a close watch on the impact of such changes, on both the victims of addiction and the inhabitants of our neighbourhoods. This is why Molenbeek-Saint-Jean is looking forward to the implementation of the Integrated Centre project.
Personally, I am convinced that this new facility, which is ambitious in its roles and innovative in its methods, in particular in terms of public health and integration, will improve the provision of comprehensive and appropriate support to those sadly affected by addictions.
At a collective level, I am in no doubt that this Integrated Centre and the positive responses it will provide for people whose dependency has left them profoundly vulnerable will have an extremely positive effect on social cohesion and interaction in neighbourhoods that have been affected by the various problems linked to drug use.
To give this new regional facility as much support as possible, I have already set up a new platform within my municipality focusing on drug-related issues. This platform, which is likely to grow larger, currently brings together various parties working in prevention and social cohesion, from both the municipality and voluntary organisations. It aims to reinforce local cross-disciplinary work in this area. The new local platform will meet regularly and be in permanent contact with the managers of the future Integrated Centre.’
An innovative support and integrated care facility in the field of addiction
Muriel Goessens, managing director of the non-profit organisation Transit asbl, explains the name of the future facility: 'Since 1995, Transit has provided an unconditional reception service that is unique in the Brussels-Capital Region by means of a specialised crisis and accommodation centre, open 24/7, for people dependent on legal or illegal drugs. The non-profit organisation, which has been designated as the operator of the Integrated Centre, has observed significant growth in the number of recipients of its services and a diversification of target groups and their needs. This has caused problems due to the lack of space necessary to respond to all requests for help.
In this context, the regional Integrated Centre (IC) initiative represents a fantastic opportunity to supplement existing care provision, to boost reception and accommodation capacity, to innovate and to respond to the contemporary challenges of drug use and social vulnerability.
By offering services adapted to every need and situation, the new facility will aim to offer universal access to healthcare on a progressive basis, starting from the lowest level. All of the services that will be deployed within the Integrated Centre will reflect this ambition of meeting the very varied needs of people in vulnerable situations, who unfortunately can still face discrimination at present in terms of access to health services, in particular because some in this category do not have social security coverage.
The future centre is described as integrated because it takes a holistic view of health, working on all relevant aspects: not just the symptoms of the disease or problem, but its contributory factors, which could be socio-economic, cultural, environmental, contextual, or whatever. In this sense, it will offer a range of multidisciplinary care shared between three specialised partners: Projet Lama for the implementation and monitoring of substitution treatments, Médecins du Monde for general medicine and Transit for psycho-social support, peer support, community work, occupational reintegration, accommodation, gender issues, community activities, etc. As well as working for universal access to healthcare, the Integrated Centre will also generate knowledge. It will be positioned as a centre of expertise centre, a kind of laboratory of specialist knowledge, know-how and innovation in the field of addition in perfect symbiosis with the missions of Brussels Prevention and Security.’
A mixed-use site and architectural coherence
Yassine Akki, President of the Port of Brussels: ‘I welcome the close collaboration between all the partners in this project, which will be developed on Port of Brussels land thanks to the signing of a long-term lease. It’s a project that will not only host the activities of the non-profit organisation Transit, but will also meet the needs of the Port, particularly as regards the workshop and our technical service.’
A project firmly rooted in its context
Gilles Delforge, director of the SAU: ‘The SAU received 30 high-quality applications in the first phase of the European public procurement process, and then short-listed five teams to submit a project. The panel took the view that the project by Bogdan Van Broeck – BC Architects met the various requirements most closely, and this choice was validated by the different parties. The architecture is deliberately welcoming: the treatment of the façades is warm, and strong links are created between the ground floor and the outdoor space. The building conveys a positive image of the service it houses and enhances the urban landscape of the Canal Area. I am delighted that the SAU, which also oversees the implementation of major urban development projects, is once again able to use its versatility on the Region’s behalf for the construction of public facilities of regional significance of various different kinds. In addition to this Integrated Centre for Drug Users, the SAU is also currently implementing facility projects in areas such as culture, the media, the emergency services, sports and academia. As ever, it is fulfilling its role by coordinating the action of the various partners concerned, in close consultation with them.’
A Canalside hostel
The architects who designed the future Integrated Centre explain: ‘It clearly made sense to design a warm and welcoming building, with architecture that creates meaning rather than being ostentatious. Our society shows its moral quality with this refuge for one of the weakest groups within it.
The Integrated Centre is a 21st-century hostel offering temporary accommodation: spaces dedicated to human well-being and to encountering the community. Far from being an anonymous institution, the project is a juxtaposition of several ‘houses’, which are separate but well connected. This configuration underlines the project’s domestic character. Rather than using extended open-plan areas, the project is based on different volumes with a common core. This core with its welcoming spaces serves as a base where users are received and given guidance. It has an entrance porch, a central garden and a loggia with a view of the Canal. The complex is comparable to a traditional hostel consisting of various buildings, each of several storeys, surrounding a large courtyard and connected to the street by a passage.
Building for the future
The project turns away from depleting inputs and polluting wastage of materials, energy and water, replacing them with a local circular model. The same logic applies to the use of construction materials, such as wood, which contain non-fossil CO2 and are thus real CO2 reservoirs: traditional and innovative, logical and inexpensive.
Alongside the conventional drivers of sustainability (a building’s emissions, biodiversity, flexibility and life expectancy) the project also focuses on societal and socio-cultural sustainability, in line with the European concept of ‘Baukultur’. A building that we all love – because it loves us all – lasts longer because it is supported and cherished by all. A safe haven in a harsh world enters into the collective memory. The Integrated Centre offers a comfortable home for vulnerable people, built in a sustainable, circular way with low environmental impact.
This project shows that a complex urban function – a much-needed frontline healthcare centre in the Canal Area – can coexist with the pursuit of the port's activities. It responds to two major concerns of today: community cohesion and the economy.
The Integrated Centre is designed as a building that connects us, that puts us in contact with the city and nature, with the park and with the multitude of cultures that characterise Brussels. It offers a versatile and open space on the ground floor, actively monitored round the clock. At the same time, it is a place where you can be on your own without feeling alone.
The Integrated Centre responds to the expectation of the Brussels-Capital Region and its citizens that not only the most vulnerable but all of us should be taken care of. By offering a new port to those who are in danger of going under, we ultimately give a home to everyone, in mutual solidarity, a place where we find our purpose.’
- The Bogdan Van Broeck - BC Architects & Studies team is based in Brussels. Having contributed to numerous public facilities, it has acquired a strong reputation through several projects carried out in Brussels. For the Integrated Centre for Vulnerable Drug Users, it has brought in the stability engineers BAS and the following specialists: SB Heedfeld (building services), Daidalos Peutz (acoustics, sustainability, energy performance), studiov2 (BIM), BTV control (health and safety coordination), Alive Architects (participation) and Tino Ruyters and Stefaan Blancke (experts in care for people with addiction problems).
- Bogdan & Van Broeck has 14 years of experience in the research, design and implementation of architectural and urban projects, with particular expertise in high-quality densification of the built environment. The experience gained during these projects bears out their holistic vision of the city as a multi-faceted place where people live, work, learn and relax. The Bogdan & Van Broeck team plays an active part in social and public debate and engages in policy-making. www.bogdanvanbroeck.com
- BC is BC architects, BC studies and BC materials. BC is a hybrid practice which designs and undertakes ‘acts of building’ with a view to systemic change in the construction industry. We striver for bioregional, low-tech, circular, elegant and inclusive design. We work with our mind and our hands, undertaking activities such as community organisation, production of materials, teaching and prototyping. We aim to have a positive impact on people’s thinking and on the planet. We act on behalf of future generations. www.bc-as.org
- Alive Architecture conceptualises the use and appropriation of the city, generating a lasting socio-spatial impact on space. By coming up with concrete case studies linked to the current debate on the broader role of the architect, this innovative practice is extending the discipline’s coverage from built space to lived space. Alive Architecture gained recognition for commissioning the award-winning Parckdesign 2014 project Parckfarm in Brussels. www.alivearchitecture.eu