A shopping centre as driving force behind urban regeneration In line with the political will regarding Charleroi’s urban and aesthetic regeneration, the Rive Gauche project is the driving force behind the lower city’s development. It redraws the public space and traces the outlines of a new neighbourhood by creating new interconnections. By offering a large range of activities and functions in a contemporary architectural language, it reinforces the urban centre’s attractiveness.
The project proposes a redefinition of the public space of the Place Verte (former Place Albert Ier) and part of the boulevard Tirou, the lower city’s main thoroughfare, as well as the decisive reinforcement of the pedestrian path in which it fits.
Reconnect both sides of the city This urban renewal operation centres on the creation of a new commercial route linking the lower city’s two emblematic places: Place Emile Buisset, directly connected to Charleroi South railway station, and Place Verte, landmark and historical connection with the upper city. The project is conceived as a covered and extremely porous commercial promenade with seven entrances and two public passages, just as the historical shopping malls were extremely open onto the city. The project enhances the Passage de la Bourse, splendid late 19th century commercial gallery whose neoclassical facades and glass roof are listed historical monuments, by its integration within the urban commercial promenade. The redesigned Place Verte opens onto the boulevard Tirou, from which it was until now separated by the ‘Colonnades’ building. While its new nearly square dimensions make it more suitable for the organisation of civic events, the project’s partial implantation at the foot of the 25 storeys Albert Tower restores the homogeneity of the building heights around the place and cancels out the tower’s crushing effect.
Integrate the building within the surrounding environment The shopping centre opens onto the city: it is connected to the neighbourhood by multiple entrances (seven allowing the longitudinal and transverse links) and engages in dialogue by the development of shop windows turned towards the exterior public space. The facade overlooking the Place Verte, elaborated as a spectacular transparent and luminous curtain wall, contributes to the square’s day and night time entertainment and interaction between the commercial and public space, the latter being, as it were, extended into the commercial complex. Rather than the quite impersonal typical example of the large shopping centre, it was the European city pedestrian street with its cosy, romantic, luminous and out of the ordinary character that inspired the conception of the interior public spaces. The noble and natural materials used at the Place Verte and the facades (metal, granite pavers, bricks, glass) are extended into the building; the commercial promenade guiding to the Place Emile Buisset follows a fluid trajectory, without ruptures, undulating along an optimal outline for commercial entities, widening or narrowing according to the location of the internal public spaces. Besides the large window onto the Place Verte, a three storeys high atrium surmounted by a huge canopy opens the complex at its centre, and constitutes the project’s beating heart, flooded by natural light.
Establish a large-scale mixed-use shopping centre in the heart of the city The Rive Gauche project aims to ‘serve’ the city: it reinforces the area’s drawing power, completes and fosters the mix of urban functions, and breathes life into the pre-existing activities, in the interests of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants and shopkeepers. The wide range of functions offered by the project enriches the zone’s urban quality and offers many employment opportunities in the city centre. The project contains a hotel (124 rooms), housing (49 apartments), a youth hostel (200 beds) and 1.000 m2 office space. The 1.000 car underground parking completes three public car parks in the neighbourhood.
A contemporary vision on cultural heritage The contemporary, purified and identity-oriented architecture affirms its public and commercial function and gives expression to the regenerative role of the new complex in the city. It is in correlation with the built environment and the nature of the functions it is housing, with a clear distinction between the commercial parts and other functions. It is developed as a play of volumes and materials contrasting strong and light, monolithic and porous, while staying respectful towards the surrounding building heights. The rational use of noble and sustainable construction materials (bricks, copper, aluminium, metal and glass) gives the building a real identity, expression of force and modesty.
Bricks were chosen to ensure the anchoring of the project within the city of Charleroi. As unitary material, it strengthens the cohesion of volumes; the variable grey tones, with warm and ‘vibratory’ shades, slightly satin, and the slightly elongated modulus emphasize the complex’s particular character. The bricks also allow a double scale of reading, an evolutionary perception of the building by the observer according to its remoteness: monolithic perception for the far away, complex texture for the close observer. This double scale is reinforced by the treatment of the bricks, especially in the creation of a visual porosity by the use of moucharabieh style openwork bricks. This porosity offers interesting scenographic possibilities based on a play of light, transparency and resonance between interior and exterior spaces. The upper levels of the hotel and housing and the vertical metal meshes marking the entrances to the mall are treated with perforated or stretched copper alloy. The lightness and richness of the metallic material contrast with the grey bricks; its visual porosity induces a crystalline vibration and causes a slanting play of reflection, transparency and depth.
A sustainable solution The project at a high level incorporates a large number of elements meeting the BREEAM certification, in particular in terms of natural lighting, light sources, natural ventilation, thermal and acoustic comfort, energy efficiency, choice of sustainable construction materials, waste management, … The project also includes two rainwater tanks, for the shopping centre and the hotel. The site is very accessible by public transport (railway station at 300m, bus, metro, …) and offers a bike parking. The complex is topped by green, extensive and intensive landscaped, roofs.