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Plans submitted to revive Cinema Variétés building in Brussels

The former Cinema Variétés in Brussels, located on Rue de Malines between Rue Neuve and Boulevard Adolphe Max in the city centre. (Google Images/Creative Commons licence)
06:34 15/04/2022

The former Cinema Variétés in Brussels city centre, which has been empty since 1983, may finally get a new lease of life, reports RTBF.

Plans have been submitted to turn the building into a 'laboratory for citizenship' where film screenings and debates will bring artists and the public together, according to the Bruxelles Laïque organisation that now owns it. The public inquiry into the building plans has started and will run until 12 May.

Bruxelles Laïque – the organisation behind the annual Freedom Festival – wants to show documentaries in the building, followed by discussions. The annual festival and other programmes organised by the non-profit organisation will also find a permanent home base in the building, which is located on Rue de Malines between Rue Neuve and Boulevard Adolphe Max.

In the middle of the former cinema will be a public indoor space with natural light that enters through the roof. Bruxelles Laïque wants the building to be a forum to experience democracy and citizenship. "This place is where the public and artists meet, where the city extends into the building," the permit application says.

Bruxelles Laïque wants to renovate the former Café Bagdad –once a catering business on the first floor – and give it a new purpose. It will serve as an acoustic buffer between the two rooms: the large one above it and the smaller one below. The rooms should be able to receive 999 and 405 spectators respectively.

Cinema Variétés opened in 1937 and boasted the largest screen in Brussels before the arrival of the Kinepolis at Heysel. The cinema could accommodate up to 2,400 people.

The building was closed in 1983 by order of the fire brigade for safety reasons and has remained empty ever since. The French Community sold the cinema a few years ago to Bruxelles Laïque.

The Royal Commission for Monuments and Sites is satisfied that the protected building is getting a new life, but was divided about the renovation in an advisory report. One concern was that the heritage aspect of the building would be affected too much. There was support elsewhere for the radical renovation, which could be justified by the extensive decay of the building.

Citizens and organisations can view the building plans until 12 May and send their response to the City of Brussels. At the end of May, the consultation committee will discuss the results of the public inquiry and issue an opinion on the plans. It will be then be decided whether to give the project the green light.

Written by Nick Amies