In less than ten years, the Region of Brussels-Capital has undergone fast and positive developments, achieving impressive results, particularly in the energy sector. Between 2004 and 2011, there was a 25% reduction of energy consumption and 25% less greenhouse gas emissions per capita, mainly due to energy efficiency measures. Brussels is a densely-populated city with significant population growth and an economic sector oriented towards tertiary functions. The capital of Belgium (and of Europe) does not have a territory permitting the mass exploitation of renewable energy sources. The optimal solution is to follow an ambitious policy aimed at improving the energy performance of buildings.

From Exemplary Buildings…

Grégoire Clerfayt Source: Yvan Glavie

Grégoire Clerfayt
Source: Yvan Glavie

In 2004, practices in Brussels in terms of construction and renovation were characterized by a lack of ambition regarding energy, due to a largely unfocused regional policy. A two-year period of research and awareness-raising actions led to the development of an initial energy-climate culture. In 2007, the Region of Brussels-Capital launched a major stimulation program for the construction and renovation of “Exemplary Buildings” to decrease the environ- mental impact of edifices and to increase their energy efficiency.

A passive building consumes ten times less than a standard building!

The call for projects was aimed at all contracting authorities building or renovating in Brussels: private individuals, public bodies, semi-state bodies, private enterprises (property development companies, non- profit organizations). The buildings eligible have to be located in the Region of Brussels-Capital and have to be used for one of the following purposes: single-family or collective housing, collective facility (school, hospital, nursery), offices, commercial or industrial facilities. The project may include a new build- ing, full renovation or a combination of both. Since all designated purposes are possible, small (approx.120 m2) to large buildings (approx. 55.000 m2 or more) are eligible. From 2007 to 2013, six calls for projects were launched, with 372 applicants and 243 projects being selected for a total amount of subsidies worth €33 mil- lion (max. €100/m2). These projects represent a total area of 621,000m2 of which 350,000 m2 are “passive” buildings. Some of them have already achieved the Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB) standard.

From the cover of the book, Exemplary Buildings: Success Stories (from Brussels), by Bernard Deprez, Jean Cech. See: success-stories-brussels

From the cover of the book, Exemplary Buildings: Success Stories (from Brussels), by Bernard Deprez, Jean Cech

Numerous renovation projects have also shown that it is possible to achieve the “passive” standard. The calls for “Exemplary Buildings” confirmed that the passive standard is fully accessible and does not lead to a significant increase in cost in residential buildings, schools or offices, in new constructions or even renovations. These calls for projects had a major ratchet effect on the real estate market and led numerous public and private contracting authorities to enter the market, even outside the “Exemplary Buildings” parameters.

High Energy Performance of Buildings

In Brussels, 70% of energy consumption is related to buildings, which offers tremendous potential for the energy economy: a passive building consumes ten times less than a standard building! If passive and zero energy options are available for new buildings, then for renovation it is possible to move towards lower and very low energy consumption. This is the principle behind the High Energy Performance of Buildings (HPEB) in Brussels: set an ambitious goal while analyzing the possibilities of the building.


A Selection of Passive Batex Buildings

Source: Yvan Glavie

Source: Yvan Glavie

Not all Brussels Exemplary Buildings are passive, but more and more of them are. Here are some examples of “Passive Batex” buildings:


High-efficiency for new school

The new Emile Bockstael School has 3 floors around an atrium. The goal was to reach the passive standard of using less than 15kWh/m2.year on energy for heating. The solar thermal and photovoltaic panels contribute to achieving this goal and offer a quality environment for the school children.

Source: Yvan Glavie

Source: Yvan Glavie


Never too hot, never too cold

Over-heating is the biggest enemy of office buildings. Thanks to the “passive” concept, this office building was able to avoid active air-conditioning: the 7,000m2 of office space reduced heating needs to 9kWh/m2.year; the transition implied a minimal extra cost compared to traditional buildings.

“We tried to avoid the ‘one-shot’ solution by aiming rather for an architectural project that could be a replicable model on the European market in terms of comfort, flexibility and cost.” – Sabine Leribaux, architect Aeropolis I


Source: Yvan Glavie


Quality and urban integration

The 12 housing units break down into 9 units in a main building overlooking the street, where the large south-facing balconies are freely inspired by the neighboring Art nouveau, and 3 homes on the site of former workshops behind the street. The project combines a concrete frame with insulated timber caissons, finished with a brick fronting.


Source: Yvan Glavie


Creativity in action

The spirit of going “passive” can lead to some very creative solutions. This building of 30 passive apartments has reintegrated the classical bow-window concept to add-value for energy as well as for architectural design: by creating these outgrowths, the buildings have reoriented to the south, thus increasing the solar energy capacity.


Source: Yvan Glavie


Passive for everyone

At first, going passive was not for them, not within their means, but this project – Espoir (“Hope”) – permitted 14 low-income multi-cultural families to come together and to own the building. Thanks to becoming passive, they no longer have to pay so many conventional energy charges.

“Building a passive home is like buying better light- bulbs: it costs more at first but since they consume less, we amortize faster! That doesn’t mean that because we live in a passive building we should not be careful of our energy consumption!” – Mustapha, member of L’Espoir


Source: Yvan Glavie


Moving to zero energy

This 16-apartment project shows that energy, comfort, and audacity are compatible. Thirteen of these apartments are passive, almost zero energy, thanks to energy efficient household appliances and use of renewable energies via solar panels and rapeseed oil cogeneration.

…to affordable passive buildings

Due to the positive “Exemplary Buildings” experience, the Region of Brussels-Capital has been able to establish standards for all future construction and public renovation projects since 2010. Also due to this experience, as of January 1, 2015, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region has already been programming the application of the passive building standard for the construction of all new housing, offices and schools in its region. The objective is to give developers, architects and design firms a clear signal regarding buildings whose application for planning permission are submitted after December 31, 2014. Brussels-Capital has shown that what was considered a utopia can be a reality when the necessary means are implemented and used.

Today, this new ambition in construction has gone beyond the “Exemplary Buildings” call for projects. The last inventory, realized in November 2013 for the Administration for Environment and Energy of the Brussels-Capital Region (IBGE) has identified 800.000 m2 of passive buildings, already built, being built or planned to be built in Brussels.

At the forefront of implementing the passive standard in 2015 (five years before the Euro- pean requirement), the Region of Brussels- Capital is involved in PassREg, Passive House Regions with Renewable Energies, and an Intelligent Energy-Europe project that aims to trigger the successful implementation of NZEBs throughout the European Union, using renewable energy sources as the foundation for such energy efficient developments.

Brussels-Capital has shown that what was considered a utopia can be a reality when the necessary means are implemented and used.

In this program, the Region of Brussels- Capital stands alongside the German City of Hannover and the Austrian Region of Tyrol as the leaders of the advanced category beyond the beginner and intermediate categories. The policy orientation and efforts of Brussels-Capital towards passive and NZEBs were recognized by the European Commission in the framework of the 2012 EU Sustainable Energy Week Awards, in which the Region of Brussels-Capital won Best Living Category.

Image: L'Espoir. Source: Yvan Glavie

L’Espoir. Source: Yvan Glavie

New Administrative Headquarters

Brussels Environment Agency (IBGE) must also be exemplary. To this end, IBGE is moving to a new headquarters that is an entirely passive building, symbolic of the capital region’s renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts, and situated strategically by the central canal of Brussels next to Tour & Taxis. This is not just about moving into a remarkable building in terms of architectural design, integrating solar panels, increasing energy efficiency and decreasing environmental impacts; it’s about repositioning the role of the administration for environment and energy in the Region of Brussels-Capital to reorient its way of working more closely with the public towards living in a more sustainable city.

Image by: Architect CEPEZED, BIPV Issol Company

Image by: Architect CEPEZED, BIPV Issol Company

[Boxes style=”2″ width=”” border=””]Materials – The shell of the building comprises of glass and metal; other recycled and recyclable materials will also be used as much as possible with greatest durability and longevity possible too.

Renewable Energies – Over 500 m2 of solar photovoltaic panels produces between 60,000 and 70,000 kWh/year.

Total Gross Surface Area Off-Ground 16,250 m2 of which 2,500 m2 are for the Eco-Center that includes a hall for permanent and temporary exhibits, a public contact area, an auditorium and a café-restaurant.

Building Airtightness – Air renewal rate: 0,6 h -1. This corresponds to the passive building standard.

Water – Rain water will be recuperated from the inclined roof for non-potable usage in the building.

Handicap Accessibility – Handicap ramps and parking make the entire building fully and easily accessible.

Bike Parking – There is a capacity for 210 bicycles.

Working Capacity –  550 operational posts are available in the overall 13,750 m2 of office space. [/Boxes]

Writer: Grégoire Clerfayt is the Head of the Energy Directorate at Brussels Environment (IBGE), the Administration for Environment and Energy of the Brussels-Capital Region. This article appeared in Revolve #11, Spring 2014, pages 26-33. For more details on Brussels’ transition to cleaner buildings, visit: