7th Febraury 2017: He is considered to be one of the most talented architects in the world in the field of Sustainable Architecture of Modern Times. Belgian born Vincent Callebaut’s magnifique design creations simply mesmerize his clients, fellow colleagues, architectural students and citizen of the world. One after another, his creations inspire millions to marvel at his genius mind. He is an indomitable spirit of Sustainable Architecture.

The Energy-Plus Master plan

Attributed by the European Community, the Leonardo da Vinci bursary made the young Vincent to live in Paris to intern in his favourite agencies – Massimiliano Fuksas and Odile Decq Benoit Cornette Architectes Urbanistes, after his graduation in 2000. In the past 16 years, he has surely created his niche and expertise in the field to become renowned in the world. His designed projects are spread across the world and have won many prestigious awards.

The 3 Vertical Forests

It is always a pleasure to interact with Vincent Callebaut because of his infectious humbleness. Johnny D talks to the architect about his latest project “Tour et Taxis” in Brussels, who explains in great detail about the technical aspects of the project.

View of the Historical Site

Johnny D: Please enlighten our esteemed readers about the magnifique ‘Tour et Taxis’ Project in Belgium.

Vincent Callebaut: Most of the developing countries can write their future starting from a blank slate. However, European cities face the challenge of transforming their built heritage to secure their energy, social and economic transition towards post-carbon, circularand interdependent urban living.

The Gare Maritime

Tour & Taxis used to be a large customs clearance and storage complex in the 20th century, located at the river, road and railway gates of Brussels, built between 1902 and 1907. Spread across 40 hectares (c. 100 acres) of former wetlands, the industrial park is a worldwide symbol of industrialization’s golden age – its engineering, ironwork, stonework and natural light. Tour et Taxis project is a mixed-use eco-neighbourhood.

Pond and Gare Maritime

The Tour & Taxis neighborhood is currently undergoing a major renewal, and is once again on the verge of becoming an important vehicle for the economic and cultural development of Brussels. This redevelopment is combined with the creation of a bridge for public, non-motorized and shared transportation, that will link the Rue Picard on the south side of the site to the Gare du Nord train station.

Gare Maritime North Façade

The project presented focuses on the ‘metamorphosis’ of the Gare Maritime (Marine Terminal) into 50,000 square meters (c. 538,000 square feet) of mixed-use space composed of professional activities (offices, workshops, etc.), retail activites (markets, showrooms, shops, fablabs, etc.) and public amenities. Across from the pediment of the Gare Maritime, the project also includes the eco-design of three residential “vertical forests” totalling 85,000 square meters (c. 915,000 square feet), as well as the creation of a large pond bordered by a natural and biological pool, which links the Tour & Taxis park to the Brussels canal.

Boat Hulls Central Nave

The ultimate goal is to create a genuine mixed-use eco-neighborhood, where it will be pleasant to be, work, live and play; an eco-neighborhood along the Brussels canal, articulated around three axes: revitalization of the built heritage, sustainable communities, and water.

JD: Please explain the “Energy Solidarity” aspect of the project.

VC: Today’s architecture is capable of implementing “energy solidarity” between parts of architectural heritage — industrial in this case — and a contemporary project. The latter provides the necessary energy to the former by integrating renewable energies, thus limiting carbon emissions as recommended by the COP 21. It means being determined to act as forward thinkers and bring our new project ‘Tour et Taxis’ into the 21st Century, in terms of uses, technological progress, social innovation, and sustainable building principles.

Boat Hulls Structure

JD: You have creatively and magnificently designed the metamorphosis of the Gare Maritime. Please enlighten the readers about the whole journey.

VC: The Gare Maritime is uniquely large and majestic! It is divided into five parallel iron, cast iron and glass “vessels”. These days, it sits empty and is one of the largest terminals in Europe, with a floor area of 40,000 square meters (c. 430,000 square feet).

Central Nave


In his time, Frédéric Bruneel, the railways’ chief engineer, decorated it like an Art Nouveau masterpiece, with wrought iron and stylized vegetal forms, that still adorn the pillars and arches today.

Our concept proposes to bring the new public park and the canal inside the Gare Maritime along the 280-meter (c. 920-foot) length of its naves, creating a genuine BIOCAMPUS (eco-campus). The two median naves are thus “innervated” with vegetation and water. These interior gardens – tropical to the east and continental to the west – climb along the façades of the various functional spaces, forming cascades of exotic and endemic plants.

View from the Footbridge

The various styles of contemporary architecture resolutely assert their time. Biomimetics inform their shape and structure, as well as the bio-sourced materials used according to flexible and modular construction principles. Contrasting with the wrought iron of the five naves facing it, the BIOCAMPUS is built in solid wood and CLT – cross-laminated timber to reduce the intrinsic carbon footprint of the construction, while bringing warmth and comfort to the microclimatic interior landscape.

Meeting Room in the Incubator

The spatial organization of the BIOCAMPUS promotes innovation, interdisciplinarity and transversality – all aimed towards co-working and the circular economy of this early 21st century, based on the “Triple R” theory: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

The BIOCAMPUS establishes an individual architectural identity for each of the five naves – enhancing the industrial heritage while guaranteeing visual permeability between the large three main naves:

Dock of Fish and Oil

  • The “Waves” in the western nave: include retail on the ground floor and open-space offices on the upper floors.
  • The “Containers” in the eastern nave: offer leisure space on the ground floor, with modular offices and a hotel on the upper floors.
  • The “Boat hulls” in the central nave: act as genuine idea labs for meetings and brainstorming sessions.
  • The “Geodesic domes” between the two median naves: incorporate restaurants and bars, as well as sports and leisure spaces.

The “Greenhouses” along the Main Street : bring agriculture back into the heart of the city, with urban farms dedicated to organic farming.
The rule for all these architectural entities is to be completely detached from the existing structure and façades, highlighting them while ensuring the reversibility of the project.

Axonometric View of Boat Hulls

The recurring theme is to offer living and working spaces of different scales that promote chance meetings and multidisciplinarity while boosting innovation. These spaces – each of different but always human, Roman piazza-inspired sizes – are linked together by ground-level bicycle paths, while over 6.6 meters (c. 22 feet) above, tree-perched footbridges offer unique perspective views of the wrought iron floral motifs designed by Frédéric Bruneel.

Green Geodes Intermediary Naves

All the co-working, e-business and e-sharing spaces can be allocated to multiple long-term businesses, or be turned into a start-up cluster. The interior space planning is flexible and easily adjustable, thanks to raised floors pre-installed with plumbing, HVAC and NICT. They only use bio-sourced materials that are recycled and/or recyclable according to “cradle-to-cradle” standards.

Geodes Restaurant

Wrapped in waterproof and airtight façades with high thermal inertia, the majestic “vessel” forms a micro-climatic space that reduces energy needs. It also incorporates the concepts of passive bio-climatism and cutting-edge renewable energies, such as: rainwater harvesting; earth-air heat exchangers for natural ventilation; evapotranspiration gardens; biomass cogeneration; geothermal stations; a wind farm with88 magnetic levitation vertical axis wind turbines located on the cornices (88 x 770 kWh/year = 67,760 kWh/year); solar and heat energy roofs (18,000 square meters or c. 194,000 square feet x 120 kWh/square meter/year or c. 11.15 kWh/square foot/year = 2,160,600 kWh/year); and southern façades made of silicon cells (9,600 square meters or c. 103,300 square feet x 60 kWh/square meter/year or c. 5.6 kWh/square foot/year = 576,000 kWh/year).

Axonometric View of Containers

All of these contribute to the development of a BEPOS (energy-plus building) that generates 186% of its annual needs, i.e. 2,803,760 kWh/year for an energy-efficient consumption estimated at 1,500,000 kWh/year (50,000 square meters or c. 538,000 square feet x 30 kWh/square meter/year or c. 2.8 kWh/square foot/year). Self-sufficient, the Gare Maritime provides 86% in value-added energy that can be redistributed in real time to the neighborhing historic buildings and future sustainable housing units across from it.

JD: The humungous project looks ethereal with multiple use of the massive area of the project. Please explain the eco-concept of the ‘Vertical Forests & Sky Villas’.

VC: The “Zone B” faces the northern pediment of the Gare Maritime, and is dedicated to the development of 85,000 square meters (c. 915,000 square feet) of multiple-scale housing units, as well as, convenience stores.

Retail Spaces Eastern Nave

The concept of the “Vertical Forests” is to build “Sky Villas” surrounded by vertical gardens, i.e. individual homes with private food gardens and community orchards high in the Brussels sky, thus combining the advantages of both rural and urban living. This vertical village concept addresses the increasingly obsolete geographical segregation between one’s private life in the countryside and professional life in the city. It challenges the car-centric culture of the 20th century, and reinstates the notion of a pedestrian city focused on ecomobility. Less time wasted in one’s car means more time for oneself.

Containers View from Footbridge

The project takes advantage of the trapezoid-shaped area bounding the construction zone. Large rooftops with elegant curves outline fruit and vegetable corbel balconies, with unparalleled views of the Brussels historic core and the Koekelberg basilica. Tilted south, these rooftops are covered with solar panels (12,500 square meters or c. 135,000 square feet) that provide some of the housing units’ energy needs.

Inside a Modular Office

The three vertical forests total 85,000 square meters (c. 915,000 square feet), and are divided from east to west into three lots of roughly 32,500 square meters (c. 350,000 square feet), 28,000 square meters (c. 301,400 square feet), and 24,500 square meters (c. 263,700 square feet) respectively. These forests align along the width of the Gare Maritime, and are separated from each other by gardens that are 35-meter (c. 115-foot)wide.

Western Nave

The façades reveal the social diversity of the project, like a giant Tetris that fits vertically together with all the sky villas – from the smallest to the largest one. Using inclined ramps that shelter the ground-level orchards and common areas, the Tour & Taxis park extends over green roofs, offeringstrolls overlooking the large central pond.

Open Space Waves

To the south, the height of the towers does not exceed 24 meters (c. 79 feet), thus aligning with the ridges of the Gare Maritime’s three large naves. To the north along the future Avenue Tour & Taxis, their height reaches 100 meters (c. 328 feet)on over 30 floors, with panoramic views of Molenbeek, Laeken, and the Atomium further away.

Inside the Wave

Three distinct urban components articulate between the vertical villages and the Gare Maritime: 1. a large marsh pond attracting Brussels’ bio-diversity; 2. the former Halle aux Poissons et Huiles (fish and oil covered market) converted into a bar and restaurant; 3. a giant lilypad offering exhibit and event space, as well as, an open-air rooftop auditorium.

Green Cascades

This urban complex connects the large esplanade located north-east of the Entrepôt Royal (Royal Warehouse) with the parc created to the north-west on the old rail forks’ trail. The lilypad sets a double vanishing point: for the perspective from the Gare Maritime’s central nave on one side; and for the perspective from the bridge coming from the Gare du Nord train station on the other side.

Greenhouses – I

Each masterplan zone is thus stitched to the other like an avant-garde “TEGPOS” (Positive Global Energy Territory), as a symbol for the desired perfect symbiotic relationship between man, technology and ecosystems.

JD: How would you define Vincent Callebaut’s role as the architect-designer of the project?

VC: The role of architects extends beyond mere conservation or restoration: it involves advocating for a hybrid history.

Greenhouses – II


To stretch the limits and think ouside the box; to have courage for oneself and for others; to challenge old structures and advance society and our way of life: that’s the most difficult task in the world, because it confronts the beliefs of predecessors and decision-makers. Our proposal for Tour & Taxis attempts to turn this ambition into a reality –step-by-step.

Solar Façade Rue Picard

JD: Please state some of your recent awards.

VC: They are:
2015: Innovation Award Finalist on Innovative Design by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), Chicago

Lilypad in the Pond


2015: Honorary Mention Winner for the project Wooden Orchids by the International Union of Architects (UIA), Paris, France

Tetris Green Façade


2014: Winner of the International Architecture Award 2014 with the project “Tao-Zhu Garden”, Chicago Athenaeum, New York.

Lilypad and Vertical Forests


2014: Winner of the Highly Commented Award 2014 with the project “Tao-Zhu Garden”, Future Residential Project, World Architectural Festival, Singapore.

Lilypad from the Sky Forest

The 3 Vertical Forests

Image Courtesy: The Architect
2014: German Design Awards, Nominee 2014 for the project “Asian Cairns”, Architectural German Council, Berlin.

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