Van Laere HQ

POLO Architecture designs a freestanding office building as a “house for working and meeting”, an ephemeral glass box that touches the ground lightly. Its generous spatiality and clear structural framework reconcile efficient open-plan offices with easily adaptable partitioning.


Surface area
Van Laere NV
Tim Van de Velde

The project site lies a stone’s throw away from the existing headquarters and warehouses of Van Laere NV — a reputable general building contractor. In a new business park we propose 3300 square metres of state of the art offices distributed over three floors. The new building integrates the client’s administration departments with meeting spaces and facilities to interact with customers and business relations.

Taking its inspiration from Belgium’s traditional city mansions of the 19th and early 20th century, we think of this office building as a generous and representative house geared towards receiving and welcoming people. A simple column and beam structural grid forms a uniform underlay, setting the stage for an open office landscape while facilitating easy partitioning into separate departments or enclosed rooms. Plan layouts can be flexibly adapted depending on programmatic evolutions and changing needs.

Grid flexibility

The structural system relies on a base module of beams and columns assembled into two-dimensional portal frames, such as can be found in typical industrial building construction. Instead of being applied in a linear repetitive fashion like in warehouse structures, here they are used in the two directions of the grid — with four portal frames crystallising into a cruciform column at each grid point. These sturdy and expressive column shapes structure the space in a way that other column types would not, articulating the rectangular bays within the open space and forming natural anchor points for dividing walls where partitions are required.

The flexibility of the gridded column and beam structure allows layouts to be easily adapted and subdivided according to the needs of the moment. This plays into the client’s plans to sublet part of the building to other tenants.

Within the grid layout a central core accommodates bathrooms, technical services and vertical circulation. This core provides lateral stability to the column and beam structure, avoiding the need for any further cross-bracing.

The modular structural setup of the building makes it easy during the design process to delete the floor slab of a bay to create a void. This introduces a richer spatial experience and increases communication between different floors — also physically through the addition of a generous steel staircase.

Material Clarity

The structural system of the building is composed of glued laminated timber (glulam) beams and columns which support concrete floor slabs. The use of wood contributes to the sustainable credentials of the building, while also providing texture and character to the interiors.

The restrained but diversified application of materials and finishes makes the structure into a kind of sample board of the range of professional building services Van Laere NV provides. There is the in-situ fair-faced concrete of the central core, the laminated timber columns and beams, the steel of the external sun-shading system combined with the glass and aluminium curtain wall… As such the building becomes a showcase and calling card for the client’s construction expertise.

Associated themes