More than two decades ago, economist Ann Markusen wrote a remarkable text in which she tried to disentangle what makes a place attractive or "sticky in such slippery space" (Markusen, 1996). In the text, she described the impact of rampant globalisation on the way businesses survive and the striking ability of some small, innovative companies to thrive in such contexts. The research revolved around the mystery of why some companies manage to be successful in the globalised world while others (with perhaps almost exactly the same product or service) do not... This issue is still relevant today and has now become important for many more activities, for example in academia.
The drawing up of the master plan for the VUB is undoubtedly a unique opportunity to renew its campus in Etterbeek from this angle, to transform the place into a "sticky place": as a magnet for connection and encounters in the academic network, but equally as a green park and spontaneous meeting place in 21st-century Brussels.
The development of campus ‘Park Oefenplein’ is a long-term work. To this end, the master plan provides a clear conceptual and spatial framework and is a script that makes it possible to navigate in time and space between the ultimate ambitions and today's urban reality, without renouncing a number of formulated core values.
‘Park Oefenplein’: A new green and metropolitan facility. Hypothesis: only a small part of Van der Meeren's student accommodation will be kept on the site and redeployed to accommodate other functions linked to the new parc (info point, space for recreation...). New student accommodation is already planned in the XY building (650st), in time expansion could be considered e.g. on the Pleinlaan side, or on Triomflaan, as an infill project on the Z-building site.
The esplanade as the backbone of the campus. The new Library Learning Centre will bring together the collections of the VUB and ULB libraries in one location, freeing up the approximately 5,000 m2 at the VUB, creating new opportunities in connection with the activation of the esplanade. The student associations based in Building D, opposite the library, will also be moved to the Conix project, freeing up additional space for other purposes and activities.
- Making the esplanade visible and accessible from the city. To make the structuring role of the esplanade attractive from the edges of the site, two new constructions are proposed: a hub with collective facilities for VUB and ULB on the Pleinlaan side and a new O-building on the Triomflaan side. As for the hub, the specifications mention the possibility of merging the VUB and ULB restaurants on one site. In this hypothesis, we propose to move this +2300m2 programme to a new location that could benefit from the proximity of the office buildings or housing nearby, while at the same time creating a new gateway for the campus. The hub building could function as a food court at street level and meeting rooms and classrooms on the upper floors. It would also be the landing point for the pedestrian and bicycle bridge providing access to the platform and to Autumn Street on the pedestrian and bicycle bridge on the Etterbeek side.