Cité Modèle: Renovating a large housing stock

28 September 2023

Many public and social housing providers are facing the challenge of renovating a large housing stock. Recently, the Eurhonet Council of Administration visited the Cité Modèle in Laeken, Brussels. We discovered how multiple apartment blocks are being renovated to improve the quality of life of tenants.

Introducing the Cité Modèle

The Cité Modèle is a social housing complex built in the 1950s. At that time, housing shortages and unsanitary living conditions were common in many neighbourhoods of Brussels. It was developed according to modernist principles and imagined as an ‘ideal city.’ Here, people would have all the conveniences of city life while feeling close to nature.

“The first tenants started moving in in 1963… and some of them are still living in Cité Modèle today,” told Christophe Pourtois, CEO of local housing provider Le Foyer Laekenois.

Renovating a large housing stock. view of Cite Modele from above
Group explores Cite Modele and hears how they are renovating a large housing stock.

At the time of its development, the then President of Le Foyer Laekenois wanted to create a complex combining the ideals of technical development and social progress. The Cité would represent ‘the future of living’: so much so that it was intended to be inaugurated at the 1958 Universal Expo. The complex was not finished on time, but it was and still is an important example of modernist design.

The Cité was designed as a ‘self-sufficient complex’. It comprises over 1000 apartments in tower buildings, surrounded by 17 hectares of communal green spaces. Many of the buildings are built on stilts in order to gain maximum usage of the land, and they are arranged according to an orthogonal plan.

Renovating a large housing stock

“The aim of the renovation is to improve the quality of life of today’s tenants and respect environmental duties, all while maintaining the original aesthetic of the Cité,” stated Christophe Pourtois when we visited.

The Cité Modèle has been undergoing a massive renovation since 2005. It is a particularly challenging project as not only must the buildings be renovated but also the surrounding landscape, which is also accessed by the public.

The Eurhonet Council of Administration visited two different apartment blocks – both the same in terms of structure but providing a ‘before’ and ‘after’ view of the renovation. It was particularly interesting to see how buildings had been adapted to improve energy efficiency. 

Inside tower block for renovation

Social impact services

The provision of social spaces and services has a strong influence in the renovation. Encouraging social cohesion and providing opportunities for skills development is key, particularly as many residents experience unemployment.

Services include a community meeting space and a new library at the heart of the complex. In addition, a social restaurant – Hazewee – was introduced in 2010. Here, young people can gain professional training in hospitality. After two years of training, they are ready to enter the professional job market. Hazewee also provides a space for the community to come together and enjoy what we heard is excellent food!

We would like to thank Le Foyer Laekenois for welcoming us at the Cité Modèle.

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