- Dirk Vandekerkhove Landschapsarchitecten
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.
Exercises in density and morphology
POLO Labs investigated different scenarios with regards to the project’s footprint: from a minimal option concentrating the new buildings on one contiguous plot to more expansive scenarios examining the acquisition of neighbouring sites.
The resulting four scenarios were then modelled on the basis of two different design options: the campus model and the casbah model. The former proposed a couple of sizeable buildings for the different schools, separated by larger green spaces. The casbah model introduces a more fine-grained approach with an informal constellation of building volumes organised along a passageway which connects the streets at either end of the site.
In the end the casbah model was considered more appropriate because of its ready adaptability to the disparate edge conditions. Also its limited height reduces the impact on neighbours and the variety of spatial conditions suits the diverse requirements of the schools. In dialogue with the client we decided this relatively low-density option would work best in a scenario that spreads the campus over two separate sites: one cluster is located on the main site between the two parallel streets while another cluster is developed on a nearby plot which features an existing old warehouse and attractive green space.
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.
In partnership with project developer Odebrecht-Vanhout Projects we developed a more detailed brief, tentative area schedule and budget based on the high ambitions for this landmark project. We refined these in close collaboration with the Flemish Community Commission, who proved to be a progressive and committed client in the course of the dialogue procedure. This resulted in a precise but adaptable planning strategy, essential to the successful implementation of the project’s aspirations.