POLO Labs explored different scenarios for a new school campus during a competitive dialogue procedure initiated by the Flemish Community Commission (VGC). Ultimately our proposal for a casbah-like assembly of volumes won hearts and minds with the sensitive way it negotiates an oddly shaped plot and fragmented urban context.


2017 - 2022
Surface area
Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie
THV Odebrecht-Vanhout Projects
Landscape design
  • Dirk Vandekerkhove Landschapsarchitecten
winning competition design
Stijn Bollaert

The project site cuts across a typical Belgian inner-city building block, connecting two parallel streets: the Gallaitstraat and Vanderlindenstraat. Delineated by a variety of residential and commercial premises along its edges, the block’s interior contains a mosaic of mismatched building volumes with few open spaces.

Some of the existing facilities — such as the community centre De Kriekelaar — offer up potential synergies. But more generally inserting multiple schools into this semi-private realm is a delicate operation. The complicated context demands a flexible design concept which reconciles an extensive and mutable building programme with contextual and environmental constraints.

A village within the city

Following the casbah model we develop a campus which materialises as a self-contained village within the urban fabric. The concept’s inherent flexibilities respond dynamically to the variable edge conditions: the scheme closes itself off from the surroundings where required, it opens up and makes connections where opportunities for synergies arise.

The elongated site is accessed from either end. The main entrance to cluster 1 is located at the busier Gallaitstreet, with its tram route passing through it. The quieter Vanderlindenstraat accommodates the entrance to cluster 2 and to the car park.

The building programme literally and figuratively pushes the boundaries of the available buildable area. Since most buildings on the site are to be cleared, this tabula rasa allows us to devise a brand new, diversified and heterogeneous constellation of building volumes. Our interpretation of the casbah typology renders the building density palatable and formally connects it to the surrounding urban tissue.

This fine-grained approach — compared to the more monolithic campus option — creates room for small-scale interstitial green within the scheme’s “pores”. As such the concept encourages a sustained interweaving of interior and exterior. Besides two bigger playgrounds, several patio-like spaces puncture the low-rise building mass. These outdoor rooms stand in direct contact with the adjacent interiors and are functionally adaptable.