The founding and development of Louvain-la-Neuve, the only new town of Belgium


  • Pierre Laconte Foundation for the Urban Environment




The Louvain-la-Neuve new university town has been built by the University of Louvain on a previously agricultural and forested site of 920 ha, following a master plan drawn up by the “Groupe Urbanisme-Architecture” (R. Lemaire, J.-P. Blondel and P. Laconte). The first phase opened in 1972, comprising the science faculties, the science library (architect A. Jacqmain), student and commercial housing, shops and restaurants. Each phase was linked to the overall project and planned as a potentially multifunctional and autonomous unit along an east-west pedestrian spine. There has been direct rail access to Brussels since 1976. In 2005 a 35.000 m2 shopping centre opened next to the station (with 8 million visitors in 2014), which is to be extended above the railway tracks. The 2014 estimated daytime population of the new town was 45.000 (with 12.000 residents, out of 31.000 for the city of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve). The land remains entirely in the university’s ownership and is developed through long term leases.

The proposed paper addresses the following research issues:
1. What skills were developed by “Groupe Urbanisme-Architecture” and its staff in order to conceive and create this new university town? How were they appointed? What was their urban model (one inspired by the mix of land uses found in historic towns, as opposed to the functionalist approach in which these are separated)? How was finance secured? How were the faculties involved in the implementation of the plan? How are the inhabitants and students involved? Could this experience inform present-day land use planning and urban design?

2. How did the1970 master plan adapt to change: e.g. in demography, in housing demand, in the university’s teaching and research needs and those of university-related industry, in the social, cultural and political environment, and from small individual plots to developer-led projects?
3. Which wider issues of planning research are raised by the Louvain example? These include:
- the overall rationale for new town development, its up-front investment needs and its governance challenges (i.e. relations with existing local authorities).
- the pros and cons of long-term leases as a tool for property development.
- the economic and ecological justification of a linear pedestrian spine as a development model. This entails making vehicular traffic and parking accessible from the perimeter or putting it underground.
- the economic and ecological justification for separating water treatment and storm water collection into a reservoir, treated as a lake whose depth varies according to the seasons.
- the case for small plots and high density-low rise buildings versus large plots and high density-high rise.
- the optimal location of the main squares and public spaces in a new town.


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How to Cite

Laconte, P. (2016). The founding and development of Louvain-la-Neuve, the only new town of Belgium. International Planning History Society Proceedings, 17(5).