A manifest to the Casa de la Popolo
Let me take you back to the year 1900, to the place Emil Vandervelde, the site of Victor Horta’s magnif- icent Maison du Peuple, a witness to the optimism of the days.
Historical images stimulate one’s imagination of what life on the square must have been like:
< The fresh scent of warm bread still spills out of the bakery with every delivery guy rushing out onto the square. Horse carriages and black automobiles rattle up and down the hill, their passengers painful- ly witnessing every cobblestone. Elegant gentleman with big black hats and long coats stroll along the tramway tracks whilst young boys scud around the square, their mothers chatting and watching from the sidewalks. It is too early in the day for the workers to ock in an out of the Cafe of the Maison du People. Only the constant stream of curious housewives climbing the stairs to the magasins gives an idea of the buzz to come, once the sun has set and the lights of the cafe will brighten up the square.>
Fast forwarding to 2017, the rather young establish- ment of a united Europe has reached new heights of fragility, with nationalist movements uprising, the distance between the citizen and the Eurocrats seem- ingly widening by the day and an ever increasing need for transparency and communication.
The Maison du Peuple has long gone, and its succes- sor, the Tour Sablon bears witness of idealistic ideas giving way to the capitalism evolving with the eco- nomic boom of the 60s.
And what has become of our Square? e modern day doppelganger image reveals the square lying in darkness, diminished by the cars parked all along its periphery. Degraded to nothing more than a carve out in a side street.
May this square be a metaphor of what is wrong with the European Union? Large institutions casting long shadows onto the public, a public feeling le in the dark. Vast and anonymous facades leaving the citizen unsure how to access and address the giant with his concerns.
So what if we re-establish the life of this square and with it bring back the optimism that was associated with this site for many years?
By inviting people inside the building rather than leaving them wondering how to engage in conversa- tion with whom. By cutting back base layers, bringing back the light. By establishing a walkway on the facade, providing space to contemplate and discuss.
By creating curiosity to foster engagement.
Curiosity that will be rewarded on the inside with spaces that enable diversity in programming and support communication: Vast unprogrammed spac- es co-existing with more intimate screening rooms and auditoriums. Libraries for personal studies complemented by o ces for NGOs, there to answer questions. Gallery space and socialising spots with the city at their feet. Artists from all over the world to be invited to live in the midst of this and share their ideas of what a Union of Europeans could be. And a path throughout the building to bring all those spac- es together to foster participation and dialogue.
The square will blend into the building and the build- ing will shine its light back onto the square.
And whereas the architect will have completed his job by the time the rst program of the Casa de la Popolo will be in print, he will have done everything in his power to create spaces that attract and engage as wide a range of visitors as possible; to truly give them back a house for the people.