Bold, brave and safe is the concept for the new shelter for girls that have been victims of human trafficking. The Dutch KAW architects designed their new home. Not tucked away in anonymous houses in back alleys anymore, which is the way these girls are normally treated. No, these girls do not have to fear their perpetrators any more in their new home that is standing fierce in the midst of Frieslands’ capital Leeuwarden. In their safe fortress they send out a clear message: we are no longer on the run, game over, giving their perpetrators the finger. ‘Veilige Veste’ provides security and protection, so the girls can build up their lives again.
With an impressive motorcycle parade, the opening of ‘Veilige Veste’ was celebrated exuberantly. Almost fifty girls, once victims of trafficking, forced prostitution, lover boys and maltreatment, celebrated their newly built accommodation on the motorbike backseats of over 200 cops, in a tour across the province of Friesland.
Double 3D Design
The gleaming white building may look like newly built, yet in fact it is a completely renovated police office from the early 70ies. As most constructions from that time, this edifice was very poorly insulated. Covering up was the solution. The architect in charge, Italian born Beatrice Montesano, was inspired by other professions of art. The sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino and the artist Christo show wrapping can be an art form. Christo is famous for wrapping i.a. the Reichtag in Berlin, the Pont-Neuf in Paris and of course New York’s very own Central Park. Earlier inspiration came from her birth town Napels in Italy, where she had been intrigued as a child by Sanmartinos sculpture of the statue of the Veiled Christ from 1753.
Covering the whole building with especially designed square composite elements; that is how architect Beatrice Montesano translated the work of the previous mentioned artists in the transformation of the old police station. The strict 12 by 12 feet grid constituting the building inspired Montesano to design the diagonally angled squares, that are positioned alternately to create the diamond shape pattern that covers the building. After more than ten years in the Netherlands, Montesano is still moved by the amazing changes of light that are characteristic of the Dutch landscape. “I still think the light here is incredibly beautiful. The white façade with its subtle gleam interacts with its environment; you see the air and the trees reflected in them, changing shapes from every different angle and different time of the day.’
The façade on the ground floor is constituted from wooden panels and large windows, giving it the appearance of a building floating over ground level, which in turn enhances the concept of a fortress.
The ground floor consists of 1600 m2 offices, meeting rooms and treatment rooms. The 48 girls live on the first and second floor, divided in six residential groups. These floors are the ones covered with the diagonally angled square elements on the outside. The second floor is a square built around a huge patio; a garden for the girls where they can be outside but still be safe from harm.
It might be her Italian background that made Montesano spend special attention to the patio. “A patio in Italy has a very important function: that is where the family comes together, where you relax, where you find tranquillity in a busy city. The atmosphere in the patio is always completely different from outside the building; here you sense a much more warm and intimate atmosphere.” In the patio, Montesano worked with wood and bronze materials, creating a defined contrast with the white, somewhat cool outside.
Massive Energy Reduction through Passive House
What is revolutionary about the ‘Veilige Veste’, is that this is the first large office block in the Netherlands to be renovated according to the Passive House standard. ‘Passive House’ is a standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. In this case, the fact that the former police stations’ substructure was placed outside the building, meant an enormous energy abuser to be dealt with. The substructure created a thermal bridge that works exactly like a tunnel sucking in the cold outside air. By wrapping the building with the diamond-cut square panels, the substructure is now within the building and the whole building is covered by a thick layer of insulation. At some points, the façade is over 3 feet thicker now. Thanks to optimal insulation, draft proofing and the use of very little, highly energy-efficient equipment, the ‘Veilige Veste’ consumes exceptionally little power.
1. The story behind the ‘ Veilige Veste’
1.1 Wish: a new beginning
The ‘Veilige Veste’ is a sanctuary for women fleeing from maltreatment, loverboys, forced prostitution and honor-related violence. In the ‘Veilige Veste’, care organisation Fier Fryslân wants to create a place where these young women can feel safe. As a consequence of all the modern media, these women are often literally hunted. Before, the victims were hidden away anonymously; now they are in a fortress where nobody can enter that does not belong there. A building that says: ‘here we are!”.
1.2 The vision: an icon
The location, a prominent corner on the highway of Leeuwarden, as well as creating a strong vision, were the notions behind the transformation of the building into a real eye catcher. We have created an icon for Leeuwarden, which represents the buildings special group of inhabitants. With this, the women send out a powerful signal, that they will no longer be pushed in the victims’ role.
1.3 The design: cuts like a diamond
The building was originally built in a strict 12 by 12 feet grid. This repetitive square grid was used as the core concept for the new design. The architect designed a façade with diagonally angled squares, that are positioned alternately to create a diamond shaped pattern to cover the building. The façade elements are identical; every next element is turned 90 degrees to create the striking shape. To create this divergent shape that had to be light enough to mount to the existing construction, we searched for a light material that could be seamlessly constructed in the designed shape. This search quickly led to polyester/ composite which is cast in the required shape in a specially designed mould. The combination of insulation and the façade elements result in an increased façade thickness by 37 inches at the broadest points, making it a real fortress.
To invigorate the concept of the fortress, an optical illusion gives the spectator the idea that the building is ‘floating’, it stands on a natural elevation amplified by vertical plinths. The ground floor is covered with wooden panels, giving the entrance a warm appearance. The first floor patio is also finished in wood and sedum, creating a cosy and safe outdoors for the women.
The original function of the building can only be found in what is now the canteen. From the former cell complex four cells have been kept, one in its original state, and the other three are used as toilets. The heavy industrial numbered cell doors give character to the space.
The former police station has a surface of 1700 square meters. Offices, meeting rooms and treatment rooms are located on the ground floor. Both the first and the second floor house 48 women, divided over 6 living groups.
2. ‘Veilige Veste’ – a Passivhaus example
2.1 The ambition
A radical renovation transformed the previous police station in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden to a shelter home for women. According to passivhaus standards in the Netherlands, it is the first repurposing of an office in this scale. The old police station was in its essence a solid concrete building, with the support structure in the façade. That and the oversized floor height offered a multitude of possibilities to remove everything inside and build the interior up completely from scratch. The problem was in the concrete structure, that was one big thermal bridge. The substructure created a thermal bridge that works exactly like a tunnel sucking in the cold. The only solution in such a case is to wrap the building completely. Together with the client and the end user we decided that if we were going to make the building energy efficient, we were going all the way to passivhaus level. Passivhauses score energetically much better and have a more pleasant inner climate. And when taken into account from the start, it does not necessarily mean higher costs.
2.2 Constraint energy consumption
To solve the problem of the thermal bridge, the structure is wrapped to Rc values of 10,0 – three times the standard for new buildings. By using pre-fabricated façade elements, we save on building time and costs. The existing rhythm of the façade is a perfect base for these 14 inch thick timber façade elements. They are filled with cellulose: insulation granules made of recycled newspapers. This is cheap insulation material with optimal characteristics, the standard for Passivhaus in Germany, but hardly ever used in the Netherlands.
The elements are carefully masked on the concrete structure. Subsequently a retention wall for timber frames and concrete are placed along. This prevents the leaking of air when driving in screws and withdraws the taped up seams from sight. German passivhaus window frames, with triple draft proof and triple glazing, are placed in the timber frames. The floor has over 10 inches of insulation.
The building is air-tight, according to a blower test. Thermal pictures prove that the façade is very well insulated. The actual use will be checked after the building has been in use for a year, but according to calculations there is a heat demand of 15 W/m2 per year, far under the passivhaus norm of 25 W/m2.
The inner roof on the first floor is partly finished with sedum, giving a pretty view from the upper floors. At the same time, it functions as a buffer for heat and water.
2.3 Use of passive solar energy
All exterior frames on the facades that receive sun are fitted with automated solar protection. The building is also equipped with solar boilers that heat up the tap water and a heat recovery system for air ventilation.
2.4 Limited installations and well ventilated
The building is fitted with 3 small central heating boilers; one of them being responsible for the major part of the heating demand throughout the year. The other two boilers are used when demand is higher in colder periods. The ventilation is organised with heat recovery and summer night ventilation system. The existing cooling system is used for the offices ventilation. Finally, the building is equipped with energy efficient lighting with a presence detector.
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