Located in the core shopping area and at the heart of the school city, the project extends between De Grote Markt and the Sint-Niklaas station. The design and realization of the Winkelwandellus, an idea born in ‘het Economisch Kernversterkend Beleidsplan’, marks a turning point in the experience and use of a hidden public space and an important step towards a qualitative redevelopment of the station district. Prior to the redevelopment, the environment was not adapted to the thousands of students who walk and cycle through it daily, among many other things. The layout was mono-functional, very car-oriented, and lacking in spatial quality due to traffic engineering. The completely paved layout did not bring coherence to the public space due to its diversity of materials and furniture. The environment was not readable as a part of the city center but felt like a rear side of the Stationsstraat. The Winkelwandellus project brought about a change in this.
In 2023 the ‘Winkelwandellus’ in Sint-Niklaas won the Public Space Prize. Every year, the Regional Knowledge Center for Public Space presents an award for the ‘best’ public space in Flanders and Brussels. The Public Space Prize is a prestigious recognition for good commissioning and high-quality design and execution of a project.
From the outset, a resolute choice was made for an accessible, traffic-safe, and livable layout tailored to vulnerable road users. The design came about through participation with the intended users. For example, there were discussions with schools about accessible and safe school environments and a bottleneck walk was organized with users of wheelchairs or white canes. By, among other things, scrapping 66% of the parking supply, space was created for walking, cycling, and biding. The surroundings of the schools, City Theater, and Municipal Academy were given a car-free and partly car-free layout as a living street with a threshold-free pavement from facade to facade. Only the Brood- and Casinostraat, which serve as access roads for the station district, were laid out as bicycle and residential streets with separated but spacious sidewalks. The Casino Park is made visible in the streetscape by a small square.
The presence of several protected monuments and the numerous architectural heritage, including the St. Anthony’s Church, the neoclassical facades of the St. Joseph Minor Seminary, the art nouveau-tinted townhouses, and the neo-Renaissance Mother Monastery of the Sisters of Jozefienen called for a restrained layout of the public space. A carpet of red-brown clay bricks placed on edge in waal format with accents in blue stone and the uniform, sober street furniture provide a harmonious and cohesive stage for these architectural gems. A well-considered positioning of green elements highlights the heritage and gives the whole a fresh look. The project aims to provide an added experience of an attractive city center with the renewed layout.
The Winkelwandellus was designed with a view to use by very diverse target groups. The presence of the preschool, primary and secondary schools Holy Family and St. Joseph Minor Seminary, the cultural institutions City Theater and d’Academie Beeld and Podium, various retail stores, and homes required a multiple use of space. The public space is inviting for visitors who want to discover Sint-Niklaas as well as attractive for residents who want to stay and meet on the street. For the thousands of students and their parents, the redevelopment means a significant increase in the usable space where only a sidewalk was available before. The Winkelwandellus is conceived as an additional outdoor space for schools, cultural institutions, residents, and visitors. An outdoor space that works as a connector and can be appropriated. For example, by schools for sports lessons. The flat, uniform layout and the omission of a lane allow for flexible use.
The Winkelwandellus can be considered as a green-blue vein through the city center that provides cooling and wetting. Rainwater from roads and roofs can infiltrate the spacious planting beds, through the water-permeable foundation, or into the growth constructions under the trees. The positioning of green elements provides a qualitative experience and functional support for the public space. A combination of high and low planting beds guide passers-by, offer seating areas, or structure bicycle stands and street furniture. The playful positioning of round tree beds provides variation in the streetscape and accentuates meeting spaces and (school) entrances. Hard, blind facades are softened with horizontal and vertical facade greenery. The chosen planting is attractive year-round and consists of spring bulbs, perennials, shrubs, and high and multi-stemmed trees with summer bloom, autumn coloring, and winter greenery.
Landscape Architecture: Sweco Belgium
Project: Design of public space (7 streets + 1 square)
Area: 1.1 ha
Date: 2019 – 2022
Client: City of Sint-Niklaas
Status: Project completed and provisionally delivered
Project Leader: Michael De Keulenaer
Photography: Bram Goots