- Atelier Ruimtelijk Advies
- Vogt Landscape Architects
When approaching Mechelen from one of the main access roads into the city, motorists are confronted with an eye-catching new building. Here we find more than 500 car parking spaces and nearly 19 000 square metres of built space. It rises up above the low-rise context to become a modest landmark at the edge of the city.
A striking facade grid of parallelograms envelops this sturdy car park structure, an open invitation for drivers to leave their car behind and transfer to a more sustainable mode of transport. It encourages us to slow down and explore the emerging neighbourhood here — a blend of past and present, a unique gateway into this historically rich yet vibrant city. Here we establish new forms of urbanity which play in tandem with the dense fabric of the old city centre nearby.
The facade is built up out of large prefabricated elements, integrating the columns as well as an edge beam. The floor slabs are suspended within this sculptural load-bearing diagrid. This facade structure covers only the longitudinal elevations of the building, opening up the end elevations for framed views of the surroundings. By concentrating the structural system along the perimeter, we free up the layout and create large, flexible floor plans. These are ideal for fitting in efficient car parking layouts but also open up the building for a wide variety of other functions.
The current minimalism of open floor plates without columns or protruding beams befits the infrastructural nature of the car parking function — but this does not prevent the structure from being furnished or “dressed up” to suit other activities in the future. For this reason the structure is over-dimensioned: we build in margins, knowing that what is made to measure to an excessive degree may ultimately prove constrictive. This is a kind of generous durability that pays dividends in the long term.
Formed to function
The upper floors accommodate an office function, showcasing the building structure’s flexibility. On top we find a roof garden with trees where office workers can relax while taking in panoramic views of the city of Mechelen. The highest car parking floor is an open space also which can be appropriated to become an event or hangout space for the general public. This kind of elevated public space is a unique proposition within the context of the city of Mechelen.
The supermarket on the ground floor follows the curves of the new paths and roads around it, guiding cyclists and pedestrians to the nearby residential developments and over the new bridges towards the Rode-Kruisplein (Red Cross Square) across the Dijle river. It functions as a podium interface between the context and the parking floors above and adds liveliness and a measure of social control to the surroundings. Compared to the large scale geometry of the diagrid facade of the upper floors, designed to be readable from large distances, here the gentle curves and natural stone cladding add a more human scale next to the Welkomstplein (“Welcome Square”).
From this new square a landscaped green infrastructure — designed by Vogt — extends into the district around it. It consolidates this mobility hub as the functional heart of the neighbourhood, from where people and activities are distributed, the lifeblood animating this vibrant new addition to the city.