Walk 3: European Quarter, ‘executive branch’

7 September 2021 (clear, 27C) and 11 September 2021 (partly overcast, 20C).

Identifying the physical presence of the European Union in Brussels with the European Quarter would be misleading at best.

First, Europe is, of course, present everywhere in the city, not just in the European Quarter. Most bruxellois will consider themselves europhiles anyway, but they also have a very pragmatic attitude in relation to what the union and its institutions can offer them. Every Brussels-based European politician, civil servant or lobbyist, usually earning much more than a local, is namely also a potential client for Belgian shopkeepers and service providers. So the functioning of the EU generates welcome income for a city that isn’t really as well off as one might expect. This is why you can see Belgian and EU flags waving side by side in practically every part of the city.

Second, the area from which the EU governs is considerably larger than what most maps identify as the European Quarter. Roughly speaking, I would say that the EU dominates a rectangular area bordered by Rue de la Loi after the Boulevard du Régent corner going towards Schuman and Parc du Cinquantenaire, Rue Froissart from Parc Cinquantenaire to Parc Léopold, Rue Belliard and some minor parallel streets from Parc Léopold to Boulevard du Régent, and, finally, closing the rectangle from Boulevard du Régent to Rue de la Loi. The main institutional buildings are situated towards the western end of this rectangular area near the parks, but you’ll find offices of minor institutional authority all over the streets inside, many housed in shabby refurbished buildings.

Some of the EU’s original main buildingson Rue de la Loi dating back to the 1960s that were at the time designed for its ’executive branch’ have not aesthetically stood the test of time very well. There is a certain shabbiness to them as well which architects have subsequently tried to veil behind supposedly modernist revamping like decorative scaffolding. This certainly applies to Charlemagne (1967, architect Jacques Cuisinier) and Justus Lipsius (1995, architects Czyz, de Laveleye & Grochowski). The Berlaymont (1969, architect Lucien de Vestel) may be the exception to this rule.

Berlaymont Building, Brussels.
Berlaymont Building, European Quarter.

By contrast, the more recent buildings like The One (2018, office space and residential, architects B2Ai), the translation services’ Lex building (2007, architects Jaspers-Eyers), and the European Council’s and Council of the European Union’s new Europa building (1927/2016, architects Michael Polak/Philippe Samyn) are rather stunning showpieces of contemporary architecture. The architects have used modern brise soleil techniques in the name of sustainability and, perhaps, as a nod to Le Corbusier, while the Europa building is a stunning combination of a partially restored Art Deco facade from the listed Résidence Palace building and a sculptural addendum designed by Philippe Samyn.

You’ll find the photographs of the walk here.