Located in the south-east of Brussels, in a landscape of lakes and beech forest, the Royale Belge building is a fine example of 1960s corporate architecture. Designed by the renowned Belgian architect René Stapels in collaboration with architect Pierre Dufau, the building was completed in 1970 as the headquarters of the Royale Belge insurance company. Its cross-shaped tower and large two-storey podium contained offices, conference and training facilities for around a thousand of the company’s staff. A landmark in Brussels’ architectural landscape, both the 80,000 m2 building and its surrounding landscape received regional heritage protection in 2019.
In 2018, following a period of vacancy, the city of Brussels granted a consortium of investors, Souverain 25, permission to renovate the building. The city and the new owners instigated a design competition with a brief to reorganise the building and incorporate a mix of uses, including conference facilities, offices, co-working spaces, a hotel, health club and a restaurant.
The design is a collaboration between Bovenbouw Architectuur and London-based Caruso St John Architects, developed in partnership with Brussels-based DDS+ architects.
The project is fundamentally about doing as little as possible to the protected building; reusing and recycling materials wherever possible, making minimal alterations to allow it to fulfil its new purpose, and improving its energy performance whilst preserving the essence of its original design.
Externally, the original Corten steel façade framework has been retained with glazing that closely matches the original but with thermal performance that meets contemporary standards.
On the ground floor, large openings have been formed in the original marble- clad walls of the impressive entrance hall, connecting this semi-public space to the adjacent offices and restaurants. A generous passageway leads to a large circular hall that has been cut through the floors of the podium at the centre of the plan, formed with the generosity of space and detail that belongs to the spirit of the original building. Twenty-one metres in diameter and three storeys high, the space brings light deep into the building, connects the lower levels of the podium to the tower with a sweeping spiral staircase, and provides a new shared space for the building’s users that allows the offices, hotel and health club to coexist.