In our scheme we envisage new and unexpected scenarios through a cross-pollination of functions.
The project site is at the heart of a new urban development on disused industrial lands in the south of Brussels: seven city blocks around a green square. The masterplan prescribes a mid-rise residential block facing the square, while a school is located at the other end, bordering a new park. The resulting L-shaped building envelope is the intriguing starting point for a hybrid Janus-faced monolith integrating two contrasting appearances in response to those preconditions.
In a modification of the masterplan we add loggias to the residential block. These cantilever over the street, providing shelter for the shops on the ground floor. We transfer the required building mass from the zone behind the flats, thus shaping a sunken area between school slab and residential block. This acts as a sort of formal “hinge” which articulates a distinction between the high and low block and adds value to the flats by making space for a roof garden — a welcome visual and acoustic buffer towards the school.
In this lowered hinge zone we also create something extra, our secret ingredient: a semi-public, controlled alley from which the apartments upstairs can be accessed. This leaves the double-height commercial spaces facing the square unobstructed by any entrances or apartment lobbies. The passage is raised a few steps above street level and connects to the studios and workshops situated behind the commercial spaces; it provides access to the bicycle parking and to the sports hall of the school, opening it up to external users; and also offers glimpses of school life by way of unexpected vistas.
On top of this alley we place a greenhouse roof, providing a pleasant microclimate conducive to accidental encounters throughout the year. Moreover this space could be appropriated by homeowner and neighbourhood associations for meetings and gatherings.
Most of the apartments in the residential block have different aspects, facing both north and south or being situated on corners. Since the building’s floor plan is relatively wide, we design a generous floor to ceiling height which lets the sun penetrate deep into the flats. At the top floor we create duplex units: a neat little trick to circumvent building height limits for fire regulations. A big communal terrace makes the living quality in these apartments akin to the much vaunted ideal of ground-bound living; our contribution to expanding the diversity in residential typologies.
The loggias offer south-facing outdoor spaces which can be enclosed in winter. This flexible buffer space delivers an interesting, continuously changing facade towards the square.
The volume of the school opens up to the park in a generous welcoming gesture: a vast opening with a floor of classrooms spectacularly bridging over it. This void continues into the building, transforming into a courtyard around which the building wraps itself. Here playgrounds proliferate over two levels. The lowest playground functions as the school entrance. Accessible by ramp, its raised position provides panoramic views of the park. Around this central space various supporting functions are located such as staffrooms, admin offices, the canteen and sports hall. A large outdoor staircase leads to the upper level playground and classrooms on the second floor.
We devise a concrete structure finished in light-coloured prefab concrete panels — in line with the materials used for the other buildings in the masterplan. As a distinguishing feature we use timber window frames and infill panels in a playful pattern to animate the facades and respond to functional requirements.
Future-proofing the structure is foremost in our mind. We devise scenarios — such as studios replacing part of the car park — to anticipate changes in society and in the neighbourhood.