Maakleerplek Innovation Hub

circular reconversion of historic heritage
When POLO takes on the challenge to activate a temporarily available site, it becomes an exercise in doing more with less. Through a few carefully choreographed interventions we breathe new life into precious industrial heritage and devise a space that is like an open-ended question. Here we invite the citizens of Leuven to participate in building a thriving hub of creative energy at the heart of a new neighbourhood.


Surface area
Stad Leuven
  • POLO - Vanhout.Pro - Infrabo
Participation trajectory
  • University of Antwerp
Sustainability and circular building
  • Sureal
Henry Van De Velde - Bronze Award
Stijn Bollaert

The material traces of industrial activities are slowly vanishing from Western Europe’s urban centres. Globalisation has moved manufacturing overseas, while logistics and remaining industries relocated to suburban peripheries.

Relentlessly rising real estate values made property developers sit up and take note. They were quick to snap up and monetise industrial wastelands in strategic locations. The disappearance of these “terrains vagues” from the urban landscape led to the loss of a certain idea of indeterminate possibility in the margins of city life.

In Leuven the city council has taken firm control of a process of redevelopment centred around the industrial sites of the old Stella beer breweries. The aim is to create inclusive and sustainable communities instead of ghettos for the wealthy.

As part of this philosophy the city acquired a strategically located site with heritage buildings. Awaiting a more permanent destination, the Orshoven Mills complex is to become a haven for socio-cultural experimentation over the coming ten years. Next door a property developer is granting the city temporary use of a space underneath some concrete silos which are awaiting redevelopment.

POLO Interior design won a competition with a design which focuses on circular building strategies. Our aim is to achieve maximal effect through modest means, unlocking the potential of the impressive industrial spaces through a few precise design operations. This minimalist approach is motivated by budgetary constraints and the temporary nature of this intervention, but also keeps the design flexible and sustainable.

Our design attitude leads us to prioritise no-nonsense, practical solutions above any pre-conceived aesthetic effects. This is about letting go and giving back control to the enduser of the space.

Four guerrilla strategies to trigger and provoke

The city of Leuven wanted this site to become a space for making and learning (“een MaakLeerPlek”), to be made available for organisations, schools and citizens. The design should create the ideal circumstances for bottom-up initiatives to thrive.

For POLO this means designing “just enough”. The heritage buildings and silos provide a diversity of picturesque spatial conditions which are waiting to be exploited. Our goal is to provide different environments which can host a broad range of activities and be open to people from all walks of life.

There are four main “guerrilla” strategies we devise to activate the site. These become important visual markers which give a recognisable identity to our proposal.

Light-touch sustainability

Associated themes