An empty corner plot in a new business park sits alongside a canal in the periphery of the city of Mechelen. Our design for a modestly sized office building of about three thousand square metres takes advantage of this location. We raise the building half a floor to minimise cut and fill operations, making room for a half-sunken car park level with natural ventilation and ample daylight. This creates two entrances into the building. A short ramp slopes down half a level for cars to reach the car park. At the canal-side the landscape is raised to provide a more formal acces to the raised ground floor: from here one can get views of the canal over the adjacent street.
The elevated ground floor effectively functions as a sort of bel étage. It sits on the concrete parking structure, which emerges like a half-exposed podium from the landscape. This solid base provides the foundation for the lightweight wooden structure of the upper floors: a straightforward orthogonal grid composed of cross-laminated timber beams and columns. The use of CLT for the structural system obviously contributes to the sustainable nature and carbon-saving properties of the building. The wooden surfaces and columns give a soothing character to the interiors, infusing them with a warm zen-like calm.
The technological properties of the wooden beams allow for large spans, creating large open interior spaces unhindered by structural elements. Only a concrete lift and services shaft stands in the middle of the floor plate, increasing lateral stability. We banish all services and technical installations to the two long edges of the building. Hence we create a floor plan with an expansive central space that can accommodate various activities and programmes and that is flanked by two facade strips of necessary facilities such as fire stairs, mechanical equipment and bathrooms. They essentially make up a thickened facade zone, which can be put to use to modulate climate conditions. The end facades on the other hand are fully glazed with floor to ceiling windows to welcome in the natural surroundings of the canal and the lush green garden on the plot.
This simple and effective layout is further enriched by the introduction of a patio which brings light and exterior space deep into the building. At the ground floor this atrium carves out a protected, intimate entrance in a welcoming gesture. At the top floor there is an outdoor terrace over the whole width of the building, from where there are long distance views over the canal towards the southwestern outskirts of Mechelen.