The European Parliament


A Project for the seat of the European Parliament in Brussels, 2005
with Pier Paolo Tamburelli

The Parliament of the European Union is constructed in the Tour & Taxis area in the west of Brussels, prolonging the institutional promenade of the European quarter across the river. The now vacated area –a former goods train station- is extremely wide and empty and has formed a large isolated hole in the city fabric since the very beginning of its development. Situated along the canal, between the Royal Palace in Laken and the axis to the Koekelberg Cathedral, the area is surrounded by activities related to the port of Brussels. This project aims to see the construction of the institution that accommodates the gatherings of the representatives of more than 400,000,000 Europeans as a means to reinsert this area into the city without erasing the potentials offered by its vastness. A new, big building will be used as a “tool” that is able to show the dimensions of the area and to give these dimensions back to the city. We imagine an extremely repetitive, flat building in the form of an irregular cross, able to measure the distances and the different conditions at its margins through its very regular structure. The flat building literally crosses the area, trying to define new links with the neighbouring regions. The parts of Tour & Taxis that are not covered by the flat building will be occupied either by new housing developments or by the already existing industrial buildings. The new housing is made of four-storey row houses (2.500 units). The row houses are arranged in 120-m-long, 45-m-wide blocks that are oriented east-west, with private gardens in the middle. The houses are slightly higher than the flat building. North of the housing area, the existing storage facilities are reorganized and expanded in connection with the new port infrastructures placed in the northern part of the flat building. The definition of a regular street pattern provides a common organization to both existing and new industrial buildings.

The flat building is 10 m high, 1150 m long (north-south) and 850 m wide (east-west). It contains the offices, assembly halls and archives of the European Parliament, a car park with 2,000 parking places, the station of the Metro Circuit, storage and offices related to port activity, a public swimming pool with gyms and other sports facilities, restaurants, clubs and discos. The flat building has a wide public roof (182,500 m2) collecting the entrances to the very different facilities hidden below. The roof of the flat building is easily accessible via ramps and escalators placed along its borders. Cars can access the roof from the slope facing Picard Street.
The building is flat to the point of disappearance. It is a receptacle for public space – an artificial field for metropolitan experience. More than 40 per cent of the building surface is public space. The building shows itself as a product of reasonable, yet highly questionable, decisions. The architecture shows its responsibility towards the institutions it hosts by exposing the artificial, abstract, political nature of the arguments that define its form. For this reason, the first duty of the building is to show that there is no necessity for it: the building is not natural, it is not obvious. Its architecture can be understood, and therefore refused.

The flat building is a monument. A monument in which there is no spectacle to be seen except for the behaviours of the observers themselves. A monument with nothing to express, nevertheless an explicit monument: a rational attempt to imagine and expose
a project of civilization, to define a common ground for its different visitors. In this sense, the flat building is a monument for the multitude: it provides and juxtaposes spaces for highly formalized political events and spaces for everyday activities. It offers a complex spatial sequence, and acts as a machine to record emptiness and congestion; it defines a multiple, yet common landscape. As architecture, the flat building shows an understanding of multiplicity that does not immediately coincide with a useless collection of quarrelsome minorities. On the contrary, the architecture of the flat building involves the definition of a common field for the exchange of experiences; it suggests and imagines the possibility for the multitude to share a common political project.

The roof of the flat building is punctuated by circular skylights. The monotonous series of circles reduces the surface to a translucent blanket covering the complicated metropolitan belly. The repetition of circular holes reduces the complexity of the programme of the building to a kind of Morse alphabet transcription. It is only the changes in the rhythm of circular holes that testifies to the different activities hidden below the public roof. The roof of the flat building collects all kinds of monumental furniture; the flat building is covered with the monumental debris of European history. Colossal heads of dead European philosophers and dead European musicians crowd the roof of the flat building. By reducing its architecture to extreme silence and abstraction, the flat building opens up an unpredictable possibility for a popular, figurative representation of Europe. By absolutely denying any possibility of an architecture parlante, the flat building prepares a field for iconic gymnastics. The emptiness of the flat building faces Europe with the problem of its iconic definition, the gigantic heads face Europe with the problem of its cultural definition. The flat building couples the icy equilibrium of a Leonidov platform with the massive iconic power of Mount Rushmore’s Presidents’ Heads. The flat building has the childish purity of both: it is as simple as a white, icy artificial beach; it is as naïve and generous as the gigantic heads carved in the rocks of North Dakota. The flat building has no style; innocent as a carrier, silent as the desert. The architecture of the flat building vanishes, thanks to its reduction to pure plan.