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Technical

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The European Commission is concerned both to be green and to be seen to be green (although the environmental analysis of the Berlaymont refurbishment design to date, by ecd's Brussels office, has yet to be published). The designers of sa Berlaymont 2000, due for completion in 2001, have responded with a low-energy design, sensitive in its choice of materials, attempting to be more publicly accessible and to encourage use of public transport.

The existing building is not where you would choose to start. It has few fond memories for former occupants. Unwelcoming at ground level, disorienting in the windowless two-storey lobbies up the building, with ailing air- conditioning and lack of shared spaces, poorly sealed and a building that moved with temperature change. Basements are labyrinthine, with an existing 117,000m2 above ground, 113,000m2 below.

The discovery of asbestos in the early 1990s might have been an occasion for demolition. But the building is seen as a Brussels landmark, and technically demolition would be problematic, Its foundations are locked into train tunnels. The asbestos would still have to be removed. There is also an embodied energy benefit from re-using the structure.

Yet this structure, a 1967 innovation, creates problems for the coming post-asbestos refurbishment, especially in terms of improving energy performance. The core and the spines of each arm of the cruciform plan are of reinforced concrete. At roof level a cantilevered plate was built to support hanging steel rods, which in turn support the outer edges of the floors. These floors are lightweight with little thermal capacity or acoustic insulation. The foundations do not have the capacity to carry more. Floor-to-ceiling height is restricted. And the novelty of the new technology stretched the builders' skills - there can be as much as 15cm variation in floor level over any one floor. A raised floor of 100mm is seen as the maximum depth possible, leaving a 2.6m floor-to-ceiling height. In places there is encapsulated asbestos so there are no open ceilings.

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