Arenberg Science Park
A university town like Leuven has everything to gain from ensuring that the knowledge it accrues also generates economic value. To encourage university students and staff to launch spin-offs and start-ups, the Interleuven inter-municipal cooperative, the city and the university took the initiative to establish an innovative science park along a busy access road to Leuven. POLO designed the master plan, in collaboration with Dutch firm KCAP, and built two building complexes which house offices, laboratories and research facilities.
Two concerns guided the design of the master plan. The first consideration was the preservation – or rather the reinforcement – of the natural landscape’s extensive water features. The master plan organizes the long strip of greenery along the access road as a series of four permeable clusters in a park and walking area. The master plan also strives for a neutral balance in soil displacement, avoiding overly deep excavations. For that reason, the car parks are not located underground. Rather, in each cluster, they have been placed under an elevated ‘deck’ around which the various lab buildings can be organized.
The second concern is the flexibility of the master plan. The science park will be built in several stages, depending on market demand.
The deck or ‘workyard’ forms the backbone of each cluster. Measuring 18 metres wide, this area offers a structure that each separate building ‘plugs into’. The plug-and-play system allows for a great deal of freedom in the architecture of the individual buildings. Within the contours of the master plan, each building can lead its own life and fashion its own unique identity and programme.
The work yard is the new ‘elevated ground level’ overlooking the natural landscape. It is the meeting point where the staff of the various research buildings meet informally. This elevated ground level is home to the semi-public functions like the cafeteria and auditorium. Each work yard offers different ways to access the buildings that are plugged into it. According to the principle of the ‘delayed entrance’, progression into the building is dramatized in gradual transitions between indoors and outdoors.
The designs for phases 1 and 2 of Cluster B constitute a balancing exercise between identity and flexibility. The office buildings and labs can house businesses of various sizes, offering them the chance to grow or shrink.
The flexible and generic interior design contrasts sharply with the rigid facades. They were conceived as an autonomous skin that gives the buildings a strong identity. The facades are not an expression of what is happening inside, but an interface behind which ever-changing activities and programmes can unfold.