The spirit of a vanished historic riverbed is being brought back into the heart of the Brussels Heyvaert district. The neighbourhood has a strong need for high-quality public space to strengthen its social cohesion. As a new green vein, the Kleine Zennepark will connect a series of urban rooms. Here, a unique integral but phased approach has been chosen.

Brussels, Belgium
In progress
2021 - ongoing
Project area
1,2 ha
Bruxelles Environnement
BRUT architecture and urban design
ARC 21 Stedenbouw Award

River as a lifeline

The Heyvaert district is a densely built and mineral neighbourhood on the edge of the city centre of Brussels. Its urban landscape is marked by the urbanisation that took place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. For decades, it has functioned as a welcoming area for new inhabitants coming from abroad and is now home to a diverse number of communities, typical of the different migration waves of the last  half-century.

The district is marked by an extensive number of warehouses and hangars dedicated to the business of international car exports.

As part of the larger ambition to rejuvenate the canal area and the Heyvaert district in particular, the idea to use the former riverbed of the Kleine Zenne  as a green connection within the district emerged. The large-scale transformation of the neighbourhood is linked with the small-scale intervention of the park as a connector for the entire neighbourhood.
The social fabric of Heyvaertwijk in Brussels is vulnerable with a high diversity of residents and few public meeting places. Most of the existing outdoor spaces have been claimed as gathering points for cars that are to be exported to Africa where they will receive a second life. Therefore, the region aims to improve the liveability of the area which calls for a large-scale transformation. We won the design competition for the new Klien Zennepark in collaboration with BRUT. The final design strings together a chain of natural, public and social spaces  that are to be laid out in phases, with the historic traces of the river Kleine Zenne as a connecting and greening element.


High environmental quality meets high quality of use:
a linear park connecting active urban rooms

The Heyvaertwijk, situated between the Bergensesteenweg and the Charleroi Canal, has been known for its intercontinental trade in used cars for forty years. As a result, most of the land has become heavily polluted, and residents experience the large-scale car trade, which is deeply embedded in the inner city, as suffocating. The district urgently needs to be redeveloped to improve the quality of life and accessibility. With the urban renewal project by the Brussels Region, the car trade will gradually disappear, creating space for a new future  of a liveable, multicultural neighbourhood.

The centrepiece of the project is the Kleine Zennepark, a green promenade one kilometre long, following the course of the former riverbed of the Kleine Zenne River. Currently, the primary land use is as an indoor and outdoor storage area for the car trade. The new city park in Heyvaertwijk will be developed in phases, depending on the opportunities for land acquisition as car dealers make space for new urban development.

Creator of meaningful places

A biophilic design approach

For the design of Kleine Zennepark, we have drawn inspiration from the natural systems that underlies the project: the Kleine Zenne River itself. This river has always been of significant importance for the historical development of the city and the district. The design proposal aims to restore Kleine Zennepark as a lifeline, this time for cultural and natural development in Heyvaertwijk and beyond.


We adopt a biophilic design approach, aiming to reconnect people with nature by stimulating various levels of nature experience in the urban environment, with the former riverbed as a metaphor for the new city park. This approach forms the basis for the design in several ways, from nature-based solutions such as phytoremediation and sustainable drainage systems, to a design language that encourages a greater appreciation for nature.


Rediscovering and embodying the former river

Disconnected and drained at the beginning of the 20th century, water no longer runs along the Kleine Zenne riverbed . To bring back the memory of the water, the design of the promenade has been interpreted as a mineral meander, metaphorically embodying the former flow into distinctive and playful concrete tiles. Due to the limited space (only 12 meters wide in most places), the connection is designed from the concept of a modest and flexible toolbox that easily adapts to the situation.

Particular attention has been given to the integration of the existing heritage and context within the project. Remnants of buildings and structures  have been creatively repurposed as scenographic elements within the park. Concrete beams and poles that used to shed vehicles waiting for exportation will form an inviting frame around an adventurous playground. Existing steel roofs beams from the former printing shop are being repurposed as a climbing plant guide within the Garden of the Alchemist.

The Kleine Zennepark project aims to bring new life and nature to the Heyvaertwijk, relieving the space of the dense and industrial car-oriented area  and creating a vibrant and green urban space for residents and visitors to enjoy.


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