Belgiums first 100% circular office submitted building permit
The request for the building permit of Belgiums first 100% circular office 'tCentrum has been submitted. Were there any significant changes to the design compared to the preliminary design submitted by the consortium?
The main outline remained, but there were some slight changes especially with regard to the floor layout of the Kamp C office space. The initial criteria were quite open and left room to evolve from a first free interpretation to a design that fits the actual needs.
How did you experience this design process? Do you see opportunities to implement designs for repurposing and disassembly in other future projects?
It was a very enriching process. It was hard though. There were several future co-owners of the building around the table with different desires and a budget that is all in all quite challenging. The concept that we worked out brings possibilities towards the future, for example in social housing or schools. We are also active within these branches and there we see the same needs we face today. Just think of the way a building can evolve over time without losing its value.
Building flexible and dismountable requires a new design approach. In which aspects does this differ from a traditional building project?
Traditional building projects are usually designed to fill a short term need. The rare ones that are dismountable, appear not be re-useable afterwards. In industrial and office buildings steel and concrete are the most used primary materials. Steel could be dismountable, but concrete mostly isn’t. Dismountability almost never is a part of a traditional building process because projects are built for specific purposes with a limited life span. There is no room for the considerable additional expenses to make it dismountable. Flexibility has however found its way in most building processes when it comes to a building fulfilling multiple purposes over its life span. Most often an open or grid structure is chosen for this.
What does this mean for ’t Centrum?
The biggest challenge for ’t Centrum was to combine the dismountability with the standardisation in the chosen structure. That means we had to choose a uniform floor, column and beam type to match the loads. A column, floor plate or beam can, in principle, be used in a future construction in any position. For these multiple reasons we chose to go with a wooden structure. It brought more possibilities for dry connections (and dismountability) and it offered solutions in terms of fire resistance and uniformity (standardisation)
Did you have any experience with this before you joined the consortium or is this something that has grown throughout the process? Where did you get this knowledge?
We did have a first experience with wooden constructions when realizing the office building of the company Beneens. At the time, we visited what was then the highest CLT building in the world in Vancouver. The masterclasses organised by ’t Centrum definitely also helped and triggered us to think about circular building. Moreover it is important for us not just to be able to tell a beautiful story, but to make sure that what you tell is actually real and feasible.
How important was it for you to be in close contact with other members of the consortium, like the contractor, technician and engineer?
It was very important. At this point I still feel that we are doing something new. To look beyond the actual trends. There is no single party or supplier that offers the one and only solution. We are always looking for new solutions that match our expectations. Because of the different specializations and wide range of knowledge gathered within the consortium, there is always a critical screening of one members’ idea. That is what keeps us stimulated to keep thinking things through.
Is this different from traditional building processes?
Yes. Even though I think there’s always a need for discussion, traditional building tends to follow the same trajectory every time: the architect prepares the entire procurement file and even if there is some consultation with the principal or executing parties, the solutions and decisions are made up front. After the contractors have been chosen, there is no room left for conceptual changes.
Do you experience the cooperation within circular building as a positive thing?
Actually yes. It does however remain important to have a clear view of every consortium members’ expectations and input. All members should envision the same and contribute actively. That sounds evident, but it’s not always easy to manage when putting things into practise.
What are the next steps for you as an architect within this trajectory? Are there still a lot of challenges ahead that could influence the design of the building?
Definitely! We’ve only just started. The big picture is there and the core principles on dismountability and structure are clear. The next step is to refine and make every part fit within this picture, which is a big challenge. For me as an architect the job’s definitely not done yet, we’re heading into an intensive trajectory.
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