With expansion of the Charleroi Danses studio and construction of the new Police Headquarters in Charleroi, Atelier Jean Nouvel and MDW Architecture of Belgium address one of the most interesting challenges of our day. Modernisation and enhancement of historic buildings and conversion for new uses is one of the most important themes in architecture today, especially in European cities with a wealth of historic buildings requiring community spaces for activities with the potential to revitalise city centres.
In Charleroi, Belgium’s fourth largest city, the Police Headquarters and Choreographic Centre of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation were already housed together in a complex built between Boulevard Mayence and Rue Spinois in 1887, in the typical nineteenth-century style of the region. The red brick building with crenellated towers at the entrance was the former home of the Caserne Defeld cavalry barracks, which has hosted Charleroi Danses’ practices and performances in its stables since 1999. At that time reformation of the police force required functional adaptation and expansion of Caserne Defeld, the subject of a competition announced in 2009, resulting in selection of the project submitted by Atelier Jean Nouvel and MDW Architecture.
The most surprising image in the project, inaugurated in November 2014, is a blue brick tower (blue being the colour of the police force) 20 floors or 75 metres high, rising in the centre of the old parade ground of the barracks, contrasting with the figure of the military stronghold with its highly significant elliptical surface. The pattern of the blue bricks, which are different and offset, and the rhythm and size of the windows, changing in each sector, lead the eye up and down the façade in what might be considered an allusion to the dance of architecture.
This symbol of the new order in which the police force is merged with the gendarmerie also provides a landmark balanced by the tower of the city’s historic Hôtel de Ville. The brick-lined concrete and wood tower is not just a work of architecture towering above the city, suggesting an image of protection and care, but is also visible and freely accessible from Boulevard Mayence, a key element in the transformation of the parade ground into a public square. For now that the portico at the entrance to the Caserne Defeld has been knocked down, the complex is no longer closed-off but open and welcoming, as demonstrated by the addition of a brasserie on the southern side, in a new building that continues into the Charleroi Danses area.
The areas used by the police force and the dance corps are clearly distinct and differentiated. The police have the two historic blocks to the northeast, wing D and wing E, which have been simply modernised, with the addition of a reception area and the new Musée des Beaux-Arts, without changing their layout, preserving their generously sized interiors and high ceilings.
The new blue tower is located at the centre of the corner formed by these two buildings, which converge to the north to form a service entrance for authorised vehicles. At the point where an underground tunnel links the tower with the two wings, the square literally rises to form a ramp concealing the parking area. There is no barrier separating the public from the police force; the red pavement of the square merely turns blue by the tower.
ARCHITECTURAL TEAM: Ateliers Jean Nouvel + MDW Architecture
Client: Ville de Charleroi
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: CFE (BPC – CFE Brabant)
ADRESSE LOCATION: Site de la caserne Defeld, 6 000 Charleroi, Belgique
Competition: 10.2009 - 04.2011
Construction: 06.2012 - 08.2014
CHEFS DE PROJET: Julie PARMENTIER, Marie MOIGNOT
PROJECT LEADERS COMPETITION: Julie PARMENTIER, Gaston TOLILA, Marie MOIGNOT
ARCHITECTS: (AJN) : Mélanie DOREMUS, Bernard DUPRAT, Stacy EISENBERG, Sophie LAROMIGUIERE, Ludovic MAGNIFICO, Kirsi MARJAMAKI-MAS,
Anne TRABAND / (MDW) : Yvan BREITHOF, Miguel CAMBA, Liz POGGIOLI, Vincent SAINLEZ, Stéphanie SELDESLACHTS, Daniele WAGNER
GRAPHIC DESIGN: (ANJ) Eugénie ROBERT
PERSPECTIVES: (AJN) : Benjamin ALCOVER, Jugulta LE CLERRE, Benoit PATTERLINI, Sebastien RAGEUL, Adelaida VERASTEGUI
COST CONSULTANT: CFE
PHOTOGRAPHER: © Filip DUJARDIN
ENGINEERS: VK Engineering, DTS & Co, MATRIciel, Venac
CONTRACT TYPE: Partenariat Public Privé (Design Build Finance Maintenance)
PROGRAM: Police headquarters : 30 727 sqm + 11 431 sqm parking
75 m high tower, 20 floors : 19 392 sqm
Offices, lobby, auditoriums, crisis centre, cloakroom, technical systems, panoramic meeting room, VIP area, detention area
Wing D : 4 963 sqm (Museum of Fine Arts halls, event hall, cafeteria police, offices, meeting rooms, cloakroom, technical system)
Wing E : 6 327 sqm (Offices, logistics sector)
Extension of Charleroi Danses : 2 917 sqm
Lobby/Entrance, studios : 2 small and 1 large, terrace, various local, housing
Brasserie : 395 sqm
Tower : K = 12 kWh/mÇ/year (passive)
Wing D & E : K estimated < 35 kWh/sqm/year (low energy)