The new Academia building draws itself as a razor-sharp volume against the green park landscape of Fort III in Borsbeek. A sole corner cut-out establishes an easily identifiable entrance. From this covered recess one can access both the municipal landscaping department and the Academia housed in the new building. After entering, we realise the industrial character of the exterior —with its warehouse-like roofscape and metal facade cladding— is reflected also in the materialisation of the interior.
A blank canvas for budding artists
The building’s metal skin offers a continuously changing aspect, mirroring the weather conditions and shifting daylight. The champagne-coloured panels with triangular profile are a more refined version of the corrugated cladding often used for warehouses. This “slick-yet-industrial” exterior wraps around an interior that is sturdy, economic and durable. The concrete structure is left bare. Infill walls are executed in simple concrete block masonry, without plaster finish. The ceiling simply consists of the exposed trapezoidal profile of the roof’s steel deck structure.
As such the building is an almost bare shell which awaits the creativity of the future occupants to infuse it with life and energy. We consider this school as a piece of educational infrastructure which is designed to be continuously transformed and adapted, changing its appearance with every generation of students passing through its doors.
Interaction at its heart
The entrance to the Academia leads directly into the central double-height atrium which forms the heart of the building. A monumental staircase accentuates its height and three-dimensionality. All classrooms and studios can be accessed from here.
By concentrating the circulation space within one big expansive space instead of “wasting" it on corridors, we put community and interaction between different departments and artistic practices at the heart of the institute. This voluminous forum space does not only allow cross views between the different classrooms, it also connects to the natural landscape at either side of the building. Through the careful planning of circulation and partitioning, it can function independently from the rest of the building and be used for all kinds of events.
The central space also acts as a natural acoustic buffer between the more “noisy” functions of the entrance zone and the teaching facilities which require a more quiet ambience.
A pragmatic application of transparency and flexibility
The plan provides a clear functional zoning. Near the entrance we find the facilities for the municipal landscaping service, the Academia offices and washrooms, as well as the studios for sculpture. The main sculpture studio is a double-height space which reaches all the way to the sloping roof. Next to it, on the second floor, are the technical spaces with heat pumps — they are open to the air but fit within the building envelope, shielded from view by the facade cladding which is perforated here to provide air circulation.
To preserve acoustic integrity we moved the patio for outdoor sculpture — foreseen within the building envelope during the competition stage — into an external pavilion. The studios for welding and stone cutting as well as the oven can be accessed from outside so as to make the connection to this pavilion straightforward.
On the other side of the central agora, we find the “quiet” functions such as painting and drawing studios. These take full advantage of the northern daylight streaming through the entirely glazed end elevation.
The competition design imagined classrooms and studio spaces to be completely transparent towards the circulation and common spaces. In construction we opted for a larger proportion of opaque partitions — sometimes in the shape of generous storage rooms — to ensure the privacy and comfort of the studio environment. However, the classroom doors’ large sidelights ensure that a visual link with the classroom interiors is retained.
Initially the dividing walls between the classrooms were envisaged to be operable, opening up completely in order to combine different rooms into large uninterrupted studio spaces. In execution we replaced the sliding walls with big double doors — ensuring a superior acoustic insulation while still offering direct connections between studios.