The Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege and its Urban Environment

An urban revitalization for a part of the historic centre of Brussels Brussels, Belgium, 2011 In coöporation with Pieter-Jan De Vos, Audrey Dussard and Sandrine Herinckx


The subject of our study is the Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege, closely linked to its urban environment in the heart of Brussels. Since its opening in 1835, the environment of this jesuit college has changed drastically, mostly because of the building of the North-South railway junction through Brussels. The current college building was built only a century ago by the architect Georges Cochaux, to replace the collection of houses in which the school had been functioning for decades. Like its environment, the building itself has been transformed throughout time, losing some of its most characteristic architectural features. Besides the college building itself, the college complex inc
ludes a domed church which was built around 1850 by the jesuit architect H. Meganck.

The project was structured into three main phases: an analysis, a synthesis and a masterplan. Each of these phases comprehended a part on the urban aspects and a part about the college building itself.
The urban analysis started with a historical analysis of the city of Brussels and more specifically of the three quarters surrounding the school: the Sablon, Marolles and Rouppe quarters. Special attention was given to the history of the North-South railway junction, since it passes right opposite the college and had a big impact on its surroundings. An analysis of the urban environment of the school as it is today resulted in an artistic impression in the form of a movie.
 The building analysis also started with a historical analysis that traced the origin and evolution of the different jesuit colleges in Brussels. This history started in 1604 with the opening of a first jesuit college near the Sablon, and continues untill this day with two jesuit colleges in Brussels: the Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege and the Collège Saint-Michel in Etterbeek. An architectural analysis of the building of the Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege and its physical evolution through time followed and completed the historical analysis. A technical analysis then focused on some selected topics of the building, including the combined metal
and masonry structure.
In the urban synthesis, we introduced the concept of a new axis through the city, linking the World Heritage site of the Grand Place to the Porte de Hal and passing right next to the college and through the Gare de la  Chapelle. The building synthesis contained an evaluation of the building based on the different analyses that were made. Because of the complexity of the subject, different evaluations were made. A Nara grid was used as a kind of checklist to identify the values of the building itself, after which the evaluation was refined for the different spaces inside the building. A simple and intuitive SWOT analysis then helped to evaluate the college inside its environment.

From all these analyses and synthesis followed the proposals for an urban and a building masterplan. The proposed urban masterplan develops the new axis and indicates some focus points along this route where urban interventions are needed. The concept of a Heritage Community is introduced, for our analysis showed that the environment of the school contained both the heritage and the people (associations) needed to develop such a community. As a concrete expression and tool for this Heritage Community, the idea of

creating a Learning Centre inside the college is introduced.
 The masterplan for the college building fits inside the proposed urban masterplan. Inside the idea of a Heritage Community and along the new axis, the school will become one of the key elements that make the system work. The existing concept of Open School can help to achieve this. A concrete vision for the building is given through a checklist of Conservation Do’s and Don’ts. This is followed by a project methodology illustrated through the implementation of a Learning Centre inside the school, as well as a project for an art centre inside the church. The proposal was completed by a self-assessment of the economical
impacts of the project.