This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 30, 2020 - December 6, 2020
Neutelings Riedijk Architects, a Netherlands-based architectural firm, aims to not only realise architectural projects that are truly sustainable but also express sustainability in their designs.
Having successfully completed the 484,375 sq ft Gare Maritime in Brussels, a mixed development constructed using cross-laminated timber (CLT), the firm will continue to experiment and further explore the possibilities of constructing with wood, says director Michiel Riedijk.
Gare Maritime is one of the largest CLT projects in Europe. By using engineered timber, the amount of cement used was reduced enormously, he says.
“The choice for wood had a favourable effect on the construction process. Thanks to the prefabrication and the dry constructing method, the construction time was considerably shorter than when using traditional construction methods. Circularity was also a main design starting point and this has resulted in the design of demountable connections and modular wooden building elements,” he adds.
Another interesting fact about Gare Maritime is that the building was once Europe’s largest railway station for goods. Neutelings Riedijk Architects, together with some partners, restored and transformed the building to include office, retail and event space components. The roof, façade and steel works from the original structure were retained, says Riedijk.
The building dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. According to Riedijk, 12 wooden pavilions have been added under the roofs of the side aisle.
“The pavilions create a new structure of boulevards and streets as well as parks and squares that follow the existing urban context and the building structure in a natural and logical way, like a true city,” he explains.
A key focus of the development, dubbed “a city where it never rains”, is to create a healthy working environment with light, open and inspiring workplaces. The pavilions comprise a ground, first and second floor, with an additional mezzanine under the ridge.
Based on a modular system, various functions such as offices, workshops, shops and showrooms can easily be accommodated. As the 12 separate pavilions have their own addresses, the huge project still has a human scale.
The central space at the heart of the building has been kept open for public events. Inspired by the “Ramblas”, a green walking boulevard has been created on both sides of the event space.
Willem Jan Neutelings and Riedijk founded Neutelings Riedijk Architects in 1987. Since this year, however, the firm is being led by Riedijk and managing director Carl Meeusen.
The firm specialises in the design of complex public, commercial and cultural buildings such as theatres, city halls, museums, schools and mixed-use developments. “We have the experience in balancing the complex functions and logistics of these projects with their often delicate and urban contexts to give them the significance in the public realm,” says Riedijk.
Two significant projects that the firm has done are the Minnaert Building in the University of Utrecht in Utrecht, Netherlands, and the Museum Aan De Stroom (MAS) in Antwerp, Belgium.
Completed in 1997, the 96,875 sq ft Minnaert Building is located at the northwest of the university campus. It comprises three components — classrooms and laboratories, a restaurant, and a workspace for three departments.
The components are complemented by a “tare space“, which is an undefined area made up of circulation and service zones. “The basic idea was to concentrate as much tare space as possible into a large hall, which becomes a transit area as well as a meeting place for everybody,” Riedijk explains.
The main feature of the hall is a large 10m by 50m pond that collects rainwater. This water basin is used as a cooling machine for the building. During the day, the rainwater is pumped through the building to absorb excessive heat and in the evening, it is pumped back to the roof to be cooled naturally.
Minnaert Building is designed around six senses — sound, smell, moisture, wind, darkness and light, and heat and cold. The construction consists of ochre-pigmented prefab concrete, which allows for large free-span spaces, and the façade is covered by rough-sprayed concrete in a sienna-pigmented colour.
Meanwhile, MAS is a city history museum that was completed in 2010. Located at the old harbour, it is a 60m tower with a floor area of 215,278 sq ft.
Each level is rotated 90° with respect to the last, producing a spiralling route around the galleries and a vertical promenade from the public square to the roof.
The spiral space, which is bordered by a wall of corrugated glass, is a public gallery. An escalator route carries the visitors up from the museum square to the top of the spiral tower. At each floor, visitors can enter a museum hall and immerse themselves in the history of the city.
The façade, floors, walls and ceilings are completely covered with large slabs of hand-cleaved red Indian sandstones that grant the building the impression of a monumental stone sculpture. The four colours of the stone slabs are distributed on the façade based on a computerised random pattern.
To soften the monumental stone volume, the façade has been covered with a veil created out of a pattern of metal ornaments sculpted like hands, which is the logo of Antwerp. Inside the building, this pattern continues through metal medallions.
At the foot of the tower is the museum square, which is decorated with the same red stones and surrounded by pavilions and terraces. It is an urban space for events and outdoor exhibitions. The central part of the square is half sunken and forms a framework for a large mosaic of Belgian artist Luc Tuymans.
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