1 Recycling the invisible
The starting point for the project is an uncompromising in-situ reciclage of the existing industrial building, including foundations, bearing structure, outer skin, waterproofing, services installations and equipment, electric power station, heating plant, water ducts, fire hoses, drainage and even parking space, fencing and accesses. This approach may be defined as upcycling.
The city of Oostkamp acquired the former Coca-Cola factory, a 40.000 m2 plot with an 11.000 m2 industrial shed built in 1991.
The competition brief required a campus that could gather most of the public service buildings of the city on this central and well-connected plot.
We decided to reuse the spacious industrial shed; not just to recycle materials like the steel, but to reuse the space itself, and all the functioning "invisible" systems.
The project is now in the last phases of construction and will be inaugurated on the 15th of June 2012.
Planet. Respect for the grey energy in the existing construction is a major criterion for sustainable development. Replacing a building (which in this case would affect even sewerage or sidewalks) implies a major carbon debt that may well take over 100 years for the most efficient new construction to pay back.
Prosperity. Reusing the existing building was the way to cover the whole programme with the limited budget available. Our proposal is cheaper to implement and cheaper to maintain than the competition alternatives.
2 Luminous landscape of white clouds
We reuse the building, while proposing a far-reaching transformation of the interior, to turn it into a luminous landscape of clouds; a sheltered public space within a controlled weather environment, where simple adaptable modular clusters may be arranged.
The thin and light white bubbles are already built at this moment. They are self-supporting GRG (gypsum with glass-mat reinforcement) shells, 7-8 millimetres thin, weighing only 7 kg/m2.
The openings among the clouds are equipped with simple devices that transform all kinds of weather conditions into wonderful events. The strong winds of the outside are transformed into electricity that feeds a disc of LEDs, an artificial sun that will bring joy to, for instance, wedding days.
Progress. Joyful recycling: While addressing the issue of embedded energy, we propose a fun way to do things. This has been defined by critics as Sustainable Exuberance, and praised as a key for the success of sustainable approaches.
Simple technology for spectacular results: The GRG shells, simple and easy, turn an enormous ugly factory into a wonderful experience, with a tiny energy-budget.
Weather interface: In a country with unstable weather, we build an interface that reacts to the external conditions. The wind-powered artificial sun, the anidolic natural light ducts, and the sheltered piazza, interact with the thermal onion and the inertia of the industrial concrete slab in a simple, self-managed system requiring minimum extra heating and definitely no cooling.
Proficiency. In this airy bubble-space of transparency and democracy, a luminous landscape of white clouds, the city services are clustered in a dendrite structure, like a crystallization of a new relationship between citizens and administration.
Planet. The flexibility of our design allows for future development with minimum resources.
3 A public environment
The large space created within the white cloud landscape becomes a kind of Grand Place with permanent mild weather. The clusters of city services are arranged according to a topogram, a graphic depiction of the work-flow in relation to space, developed through workshops with the city employees and the citizens.
The central nerves throw feeders into the public space, as well as the back office, with informal meeting rooms at the joints. The info points, a 3-D version of the city website, have a touch-screen interface; but most importantly, one of the frames is a door where you can actually walk in and talk to the person behind the website.
Participation. The 170 workers of the city, from clerks to cleaning people, participated in workshops to discuss the project, from spatial arrangement to the maintenance of materials.
Progress. Transparent administration: Citizens can see what is going on in their town hall. Even the roadwork department becomes a landscape with its daily choreography. The press described this as the City Hall of the Future.
People. Accessibility, but blended in. The signage is on the floor with relief-painted paths, but for everyone, not just for the visually impaired. The clusters are not colour-coded but texture-coded. The two info point heights feel natural, not specially made for wheelchairs.
4 Diagrams and connectivity
We are dealing with very different kind of programs within the same space. People may be getting married in one end while roadwork materials are being hoarded somewhere else. Our simple diagrams help control flows of people and materials, noise and dust, daily work and celebration.
Energy loss grows exponentially with temperature difference. It is much more efficient to have several layers of climate control, than to attempt to heat or cool the whole building homogeneously up to the door.
It is also more comfortable when you enter a building, to find that the temperature in the hall area is only a little different to the outside, so that you do not have to take your coat off immediately, reaching comfort temperature gradually as you reach the inner areas. This is particularly true for a public building, where thermal layers may correspond to access controls.
Planet. The thermal onion is a major device to minimise energy consumption during operation. The thermal inertia of the industrial concrete slab means no cooling is required.
Natural light control and enhancement, for working areas and public spaces is ensured through a series of mechanisms like the solar chimney, as well as the patio system.
5 Productive landscape
An energy producing park, built with recycled materials. Park activities, cycle and pedestrian lanes coexist in harmony with yards for storage and the management of construction material.
Prosperity. The park around the building is also built with a very controlled budget, and its features are productive systems, rather than an expense. The city's road work department material storage integrates with pedestrian and cycling routes. It is part of a European Interreg MP4 project: Making Places Profitable.
Planet. Water harvesting in two steps: the roof provides clean water for all the toilets, the workshops, and the vehicle cleaning point. This adds to the water collected in the plot, which may contain some sand to filter, but is perfect to fill the street-cleaning truck tanks.
We chose basic materials, either recycled from waste, or very light and simple materials, or plain raw materials with only basic production procedures. We then give them a twist, applying our “joyful recycling” principle.
GRG bubbles. With only 7mm of thickness, the whole space is dramatically transformed with the glass-mat reinforced gypsum.
Paper flocking. The bubbles were insulated on the outer side, and the spots with intense centripetal sound concentration were treated with a flocking of recycled paper celluloses to absorb excess noise and reduce sound effects.
CNC panels. Each cluster is recognisable by the funky texture of its cladding. The texture is a CNC carving on a basic agglomerated wood board, turning a cheap and simple raw material into a chic finishing.
PET felt. A felt made with recycled PET bottles is used for furniture, wall coerings and soft partitions, adding warmth to the design, while contributing to the softening of the acoustic soundscape.
Paint. The outside of the industrial building, with the round portholes, only needs a coat of paint.
Floor. The floor is the existing concrete surface, lightly polished. The marks and lines that were used for the placement of coca-cola pallets remain in their place, adding depth and life to the large surface.
On the outside, it is a non-building. We cover the red panelling of the former coca-cola offices with a printed vegetation screen, to optimise solar exposure in winter and summer, but also signifying the change towards a friendly attitude and a caring management of the environment.
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