A True Transformation: The Multi Project in Brussels
Project Manager Laurent Withofs is in charge of taking the Multi Tower in the center of Brussels from dark to light. What was a mass of heavy metal on the skyline will be a bright, multi-functional and modern workspace by the end of 2020. The Multi project is a large scale renovation with the building consisting of 45,000 square meters spread over 18 floors and offers the potential for nearly 2,000 people to cultivate their ambition. We sat down with Laurent to discuss the project and what it takes to tackle a huge project such as this one.
Q: The Multi Tower project is now officially underway. What duties does your role consist of?
A: As the project manager, I am responsible for the communication, the execution, the budget and the timeframe of the project. For a project like this there are several different teams and a lot of people working together to complete it. I manage the architects, engineers, law and recuperation advisors, quantity surveyors and security and safety teams. I bounce between meetings and the building site to make sure all of the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together so that I can see the big picture.
Q: How is a renovation project different from a new build?
A: With a renovation project a lot of thought, in fact an entire team, goes into figuring out what materials can be repurposed or recuperated. The circular economy theory is one of the main cornerstones of the projects we manage which makes a project more challenging but also more exciting. Our goal is to have at least 3% repurposed materials incorporated into the renovation, and this might not sound like a lot, but it is 3 times the average amount. Most buildings will struggle to meet a 1% recuperation rate, so a lot of our efforts go into that which makes this project a lot different than a new build.
Q: What are the biggest challenges for you so far with this project?
A: With every project I am in charge of, especially renovations, the budget and the deadline are the biggest factors. With renovations you can run into a lot more obstacles than you would with a new build. Old materials can house asbestos, for example, which is a problem that needs to be properly dealt with before we can safely continue with a project. A new build wouldn’t have those issues. Repurposing materials can save money on the budget but a lot of planning goes into that to make sure it fits with the timeframe. There’s never a dull moment with a project like this!
Q: What is something that may be surprising about a big building renovation?
A: I think people will be surprised to know the sheer number of engineers that are working on the Multi Tower. We have engineers for stability, engineers for techniques such as ventilation and elevators, engineers working on acoustical requirements for the space, and even engineers for the insulation itself. This building is in the center of Brussels and we want it to be functional for as long as possible. That takes a lot of engineers.
Q: How will the project look when its finished?
A: So much thought has gone into how we can really transform this building into something that Brussels can be proud of. There was no option to demolish it completely, so we are glad to have gotten the privilege to develop it at Whitewood. The architects have plans to make the building a bright mark in the city with a light aluminum frame and reflection-free glass windows that should really open up the space and give some transparency. All the building materials were chosen to make the building blend with the environment and reflect its multi-purpose nature.
Q: And lastly, what do you find most exciting about the Multi Tower project?
A: I am excited to show what we can do to transform old buildings that have gone out of fashion when we think critically and get the right people involved. Everyone in the city is watching this project get under way and it will touch many lives in one way or another when it is completed. Thinking about that drives me to make the project the best it can be. We already have tenants waiting for the renovated office spaces in the new tower and handing them the “keys” to their new space is going to be a very gratifying moment.
We would like to thank Laurent for sharing some behind the scenes information with us about the Multi Tower renovation project. We can’t wait to see it transform. If you’re interested in how it will go, check back here for updates on the project.