Are you looking for quirky places where culture, entertainment and industrial heritage go hand in hand? Add these hotspots to your agenda!
It’s a familiar phenomenon in many cities: abandoned factories, empty warehouses and other building complexes waiting aimlessly for demolition. What a waste of space. Creative repurposing is a powerful tool against vacancy and dilapidation: make room for art and culture!
Brussels understands this and temporary occupations are blossoming here. You mainly see them along the banks of the capital’s canal. Start-ups, fab labs, arts centres, associations and entrepreneurs are breathing new life into dormant sites and transforming them into locally anchored urban laboratories and creative breeding grounds.
And what's more, all year long they organise cultural events, cosy aperitifs and crazy parties. Believe us: you don’t want to miss this!
We start with a bang: See U, Belgium's largest temporary occupation project. These barracks used to house the Ecole Royale de Gendarmerie. In a few years, the site will become a university district. In the meantime, it is an oasis of art, culture and creative entrepreneurship. It is home to, among others, the Kinograph pop-up cinema, a baby café, a food truck, an organic market and a beautiful wooden velodrome. You’ll be amazed by the lovely events, such as exhibitions, concerts, ball games, a vintage flea market and DJ sets.
When talking about hip places with a great vibe, it’s impossible not to mention the LaVallée arts centre. This former laundry is located in the heart of Molenbeek and is a sanctuary for artistic cross-pollination. The studios and offices are an ideal base for creative people, especially from the applied arts. But LaVallée is also a comfortable space for local residents and anyone who wants to come there to chill out and soak up some culture. You are welcome to attend aperitifs and evenings full of music. There is nothing more enjoyable than sitting at the tables in the cosy courtyard to enjoy a snack, drink(s) and quality DJ sets all evening long.
Studio CityGate is a creative hub, just a stone’s throw from Brussels-Midi station, in an old textile factory in Anderlecht. It is a prime example of an urban development project with a flourishing social and cultural dimension. For instance, there’s the opportunity to climb walls at Petite Ile, skate at Byrrrh, attend concerts at the Volta music centre and enjoy a meal on the spacious terrace at Antidote. This courtyard canteen is run by a Mediterranean festivities collective, and they definitely know how to keep the atmosphere going with heart-warming activities such as pétanque, mölkky, pizza baking and live music.
Recyclart has been a fixture for lovers of subcultures for over twenty years. The parties are legendary and the programming is offbeat. But there’s also so much more going on. With its woodwork and metal construction workshops, Recyclart Brussels trains talent for the labour market. This was the case in their previous location in the Marolles train station, and it still is in rue Manchester in Molenbeek's Heyvaert neighbourhood, where the Recyclart team transformed an old printing office into a warm, creative nest. You can go to Recyclart for a rollercoaster of concerts, performances, installations, expos and pure fun with a twist. While you’re there, treat yourself to one of Bar Recyclart’s vegan dishes. They come highly recommended!
Right next to Recyclart is Decoratelier, an artistic centre that set up shop in a former sugar refinery. It has been a home for artists, local residents and sympathisers since 2019. Decoratelier is attentive to the needs of vulnerable groups and focuses on inclusiveness, participation, synergy and artivism. In the courtyard, local youngsters personally constructed the Molengym equipment. Since then, they have become first-class managers and sports coaches.
(c) Ivan Put
BE-HERE is situated next to the Tour & Taxis site in Laeken. For decades, this former BYRRH distribution centre stood idle, until the authorities decided it was time to give it a complete overhaul. BE-HERE is now a sustainable village in the city, a lively hub of social and circular economy businesses. But it is also a haven for music ensembles and theatre producers. In its beautiful, glass canopy-covered hall, you can get a craft beer from La Source, a lunch box from Fermenthings, and an exotic cocktail at vintage trainer bar Karat. And yes, that’s a thing! A little further down the road, you can have fun in the BXL Pump Park! BE-HERE is clearly a place to be!
Allee du Kaai
The spontaneous action zone Allee du Kaai emerged on the banks of the Brussels Canal in 2014. It was one of the first participatory projects to tackle vacancy through temporary use while simultaneously creating a social neighbourhood dynamic. The abandoned warehouses soon became a beacon of social commitment and a meeting place for local youngsters living in precarious conditions. The Allee du Kaai team is still fully committed to connecting people. The site is absolutely beautiful with vegetable gardens, a skate park, a dreamy picnic spot, colourful murals and lots of surprising activities. If there is one place where you literally have to set foot, it is here.
Right next to Studio CityGate, the brand-new Circle Park occupies a stretch of wasteland of no less than 18,000m². The site is surrounded by bright pink containers that provide shelter during a storm but also serve as cosy rooms for workshops on the circular economy. The cultural programme is constantly evolving: open-air theatre in front of a 300-seat grandstand, flea markets, yoga and dance classes, concerts, neighbourhood parties... Keep an eye on their events calender! Meanwhile, you can visit the bar and the sports fields for a game of paddle and beach volley.
Tour à PLomb
The Tour à Plomb is a fairly recent addition to Brussels' rich cultural landscape. As a neighbourhood centre in the commune of the City of Brussels, it is bustling with (socio-)cultural, artistic and sporting activities. The site was created in 1832, and the tower was built in 1898. It lost its industrial function in the early 1960s, but its current cultural repurposing only happened in 2018. There are plenty of activities in the pipeline such as host lectures, creative workshops, openings, and more cultural treats.
(c) Georges de Kinder
Le Tri Postal
Right at the entrance of Brussels-Midi Station you'll find Le Tri Postal, in a mastodon of a building, that stood empty for more than 20 years. Until 1997, this was the largest postal sorting centre in Belgium. The national train company SNCB/NMBS has plans to repurpose the building in the future, but in the meantime, its collective Communa who is upgrading the neighbourhood with a number of creative projects. Keep an eye on their Facebook page.