– bringing people, the city and knowledge together

Icons use case study city info


Brussels Capital Region

Icons use case study main actors

Main actors

City Government, Regional Government, Public Utility, Research Institutes / Universities

Icons use case study project area

Project area

Neighborhood or district

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2014/07

Conversion of a former barracks site into a new district combining heritage, sustainable development, circular economy and knowledge.

In 2018, the Brussels-Capital Region purchased a former military complex from the Belgian Federal State in order to: the conversion of an enclosed, early 20th century military complex into an open and diverse space for 21st century living. While not a student campus, it is a future district of the city that will be diverse and dynamic, urban and welcoming, sustainable and innovative and centered around the universities.

This project has been chosen by Brussels Capital Region to be peer-reviewed in the frame of the Sustainable Cities Collaboratory:

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium

Size and population development
The population of Brussels Capital Region was recorded as 1,191,604 in 2017. By 2030, the total population is expected to reach 1,309,264 people, corresponding to an increase of approximately 10% over this period.

Population composition
65% (777,465 people) of the Brussels Capital Region are of Belgian nationality. Due to the high number of European institutions and businesses located in Brussels, a large proportion, 23%, of the population are from other EU countries. 12% (38,972 people) are from countries other than Belgium and the EU. The average age of the population is 37, in comparison with the European average of 42.

Main functions
The Brussels-Capital Region was formed in June 1989 and is part of both the French and Flemish communities of Belgium. It has bilingual status and is one of the three federal regions of Belgium along with Flanders and Wallonia. The Brussels Capital Region is the administrative centre for many international organisations, including the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the World Customs Organization and EUROCONTROL as well as a large number of international corporations.

Main industries / business
From 1995 to 2015, the Brussels Capital Region experienced economic growth of approximately 1.5% per year and accounts for nearly 9% of all exports from Belgium. Despite this, the unemployment rate in the Capital Region was recorded as 17% in 2017. The main industries operating in the Brussels Capital Region include electronics, chemicals, printing, publishing, clothing, telecommunications, aircraft construction, and the food industry. During the 2016-2022 period, the ‘other market services’ industry, including business services, is projected to make the largest contribution to economic growth in the Brussels Capital Region.

Sources for city budget
The National Government of Belgium and taxation revenue from the Brussels Capital Region.

Political structure
The Brussels Parliament is made up of 89 members, elected by universal suffrage every five years by Belgian adults registered in one of the communes of the Brussels-Capital Region. The regional deputies are split into two groups: 72 parliamentarians are elected from a list for French speakers and 17 from a list for Dutch speakers. The Parliament chooses the members of Government of the Brussels-Capital Region and the regional state secretaries from among the elected parliamentarians, who are then replaced by their substitutes on the electoral list. The Government of the Brussels-Capital Region is comprised of a Minister-President, 4 Ministers (2 French speakers and 2 Dutch speakers) and 3 Secretaries of State. The Government is elected every five years by the Brussels Parliament (the Council of the Brussels-Capital Region). The Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region represents the legislative branch of government that prepares, debates and votes on the laws. The members of the Government are responsible for matters defined by the regional competences.

Administrative structure
The policy of the Regional Government is implemented in a number of areas, particularly in economic and territorial matters by the Brussels Regional Public Service and the regional bodies. The Brussels-Capital Region is the competent authority in: Urban development (plans, planning permission, urban renewal, real estate policy, protection of monuments and sites) and housing; Environment, water and nature conservation; Economy (economic expansion, foreign trade) and Employment policy; Transport; Public works; Energy policy; Local authorities and subsidiary authorities; External relations; Scientific research. The Brussels-Capital Region is composed of 19 communes, including the City of Brussels. The communes manage matters relating to the daily life of citizens and the communal territory. They play an essential role in urban governance and are responsible for a range of services in diverse areas including water, energy, waste management and telecommunications.

Launched in July 2014, the Brussels government policy statement for 2014-2019 marked interest in the former barracks site of Ixelles and its potential for development as an international student city.

In 2016, the Brussels-Capital Region commissioned a feasibility study for the conversion of the former barracks by the MSA-IDEA consultancy firm. This study evaluated the maximum development potential of a mixed-usage site which the government approved. The selected scenario proposed a mixed usage space with student housing as the central part of the development and the fringes populated by new residential developments.

The Brussels-Capital Region bought the site in early 2018. The last buildings occupied by the Police will be released in early 2019.

Simultaneously, in the framework of the partnership between the VUB-ULB universities, Funding was applied for and received from the European and Regional funding (ERDF Operational Program 2014-2020) to develop a joint project. The current ERDF project proposes a university center dedicated to sustainable development and public awareness activities, fundamental and participative research on the theme of sustainable development and eco-responsible consumption. This will help to foster the creation of local non-relocatable jobs and the development of Brussels 'start-ups'. Additionally, the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (PRDD) approved by the Brussels government in July 2018 recognizes this site as a priority development zone for the region


The barracks site will be converted into a new district with:

  • 600 housing offerings for international students,
  • 200 affordable housing offerings
  • a residence for university researchers
  • a student services counter
  • a fab-lab / incubator for young entrepreneurs
  • an inter-university research cluster for sustainable development
  • an interpretation center presenting university research on sustainability,
  • neighborhood facilities
  • a cultural center

Brussels-Capital Region will develop the vision for the 3,85 hectares of the site, finance and supervise its conversion. Europe will co-finance the establishment of an inter-university cluster for sustainable development (ERDF program 2014-2020).

Brussels-Capital Region has undertaken to implement a new resilient planning approach by linking two new regional tools:

  • Spatial planning tool called PAD (Plan d’Amenagement Director / Master Development Plan). This tool combines regulatory components with strategic ones. It is a flexible planning tool that can evolve over time and accommodate new uses and needs of residents, citizens and the universities.
  • Circular Economy tool called PREC (Plan Regional d’Economy Circulaire- Regional Plan for Circular Economy). This tool has received two European awards for innovation by combining sectoral actions with territorial ones in order to implement this new economic model.

The Master Development Plan (PAD) defines the schedule, construction and design of roads and public spaces, heritage protection, and mobility and parking.

The “Barracks master plan” must follow certain procedural steps.

  • Project design and environmental impact studies.
  • Public consultation.
  • Approval by the Regional Government of first draft of the plan.
  • Recommendation of the Regional Development Commission (government consultative body).
  • Approval of second draft of the plan by the government, including any modifications following the public consultation and the recommendation of official bodies including the Regional Development Commission.
  • Submission of the project to the Council of State to ensure it complies with legal regulations.
  • Approval of the third draft by the Government.

Once the master plan is approved, the implementation of the various components of Usquare can begin, provided the necessary building permits have been obtained.

The expected timing is as follows: 

  • From 2023: gradual development of public spaces on the site.
  • By 2023: restoration and development of buildings that will house the universities and shared facilities.
  • By 2025: renovation and construction work to accommodate student and family housing, as well as local facilities.

The draft master plan has been presented to citizens living around the location during 3 public meetings.

  • Brussels-Capital Region
  • – The Brussels Planning Agency
  • Société d’aménagement urbain (SAU-MSI) – The Brussels Urban Development Corporation
  • Université libre de Bruxelles – The French-speaking free University of Brussels
  • Vrij Universiteit Brussels – The Dutch-speaking free University of Brussels
  • Europe through European Regional Development Funds
  • Citizens

This project is the result of two proactive initiatives.

  • Universities: ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and VUB (Vrij Universiteit Brussel) will become more integrated in the city and provide benefits for citizens and students and establish a new academic center of international importance.
  • Brussels-Capital Region: will meet the needs of its citizens in terms of housing, social facilities and quality of life, while reinforcing its national and international status: Belgium's largest student city, leading university hub in Europe, national capital and international metropolis, a crossroads of cultures amid a plethora of initiatives in collective intelligence, research and innovation. The Regional Government believes that promoting these assets will increase the integration of the student population in the urban fabric of the city  and encourage positive initiatives in the region that will be beneficial to its development and the citizens of Brussels.

Too soon to mention results and impacts as the project is in its early development phase.

One potential challenge is related to the acceptance of the project by neighboring residents.

Too early to mention lessons-learnt as the project is in its early development phase.

External links / documents

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Sustainable Cities Collaboratory
Berlin, Germany

Sustainable Cities Collaboratory

Institution | Network

Alfredo Corbalan
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium

Alfredo Corbalan

Individual | Expert - international and european affairs related to urban development

Elisa Donders
Brussels Capital Region, Belgium

Elisa Donders

Individual | Social Geographer

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