The Gare du Midi/Zuid is the gateway to Brussels for many visitors but the area immediately surrounding the station does not exactly top your average tourist’s bucket list. Nonetheless, this neighbourhood has much to offer urban ramblers, including Belgium’s tallest building, a traditional lambic brewery, the Sewer Museum, and a foodie’s paradise at Abbatoir.
It may sound silly to suggest that a 38-storey skyscraper is a ‘hidden’ gem, but it’s easy to miss the Tour du Midi or Zuidertoren as you rush headlong from the station onto the Esplanade d’Europe.
But . . . look up.
At 150 metres tall (171, including the antenna), the modernist Pensions Tower, as it’s also known, was built between 1962 and 1967 and for five years was the tallest building in Europe outside Moscow and Warsaw, before being gazumped by the 210 metre Tour Montparnasse in Paris.
Using a revolutionary construction method for the time, each floor is cantilevered from a single central column, itself anchored to a foundation platform nine metres below ground. This approach cleverly maximises office space inside and, at ground level, creates the effect of a floating building – an impression enhanced by the glimmering pool beneath the tower.
On the west and east facades, water plays through abstract copper and steel sculptures by Jean-Pierre Ghysels and Jacques Moeschal, creator of the iconic Fleche de la Genie Civile for the 1959 World Expo.
Semi-reflective solar glass cladding was fitted in 1996, unifying the facia. Take a moment. Sit on the low basin wall. Listen to the water babble and see the changing moods of the Brussels sky, reflected.
Next time: Cantillon Brewery.