Building O by META strengthens the heart of the UA-campus
META and Storimans Wijffels architects in collaboration with Tractebel just have completed their commission from the University of Antwerp to build an auditorium and research building at the heart of the Drie Eiken campus in Wilrijk. Accessed through 2 spacious entrances, Building O contains 8 auditoriums, 2 microscopy rooms, 1 bio-space and 1 laboratory and also provides space for a reprographic service and 216 bicycles.
The building houses the following Faculties: Medicine and Health Sciences, Pharmacology, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences and Biology. Previously spread over several campuses in Antwerp, the teachers and students are now united in one building.
"By paying special attention to the structure, we were able to dispense with several layers of finishing. The result is a solid, student-resistant construction."
[ Niklaas Deboutte, META architectuurbureau ]
"Building O is a bright and compact volume, an eye-catcher for the campus but with the smallest possible spatial stamp."
[ Eric Soors, META architectuurbureau ]
Educational buildings are more than just infrastructures into which to insert functional arrangements of classrooms and administrative spaces. People do not learn by simply attending lectures or via the transfer of knowledge – they require stimulation and, to a large extent, this occurs through the social interaction that accompanies the processing of knowledge.
This principle led to the creation of an atrium at the heart of the building that functions as both a meeting place and a focus around which the building’s functions are organized. It is a pleasant spot where people can come together informally, a location in which to be inspired, and a place where ideas take shape.
Mirror symmetry in a readable building
Building O is a bright and compact volume that, on the one hand, is intended to be an eye-catcher on the campus. On the other hand, it was also required to leave the smallest possible spatial stamp on the site.
The balance between affirmation and integration, and the unifying role of Building O, resulted in a universal building with a double entrance section that is mirrored diagonally, thus assigning equal importance to the access points on both sides. The four auditoria on each of levels -1 and +1 are arranged around the central atrium, the large skylight of which permits zenithal daylight to penetrate to the underground level. The ground floor accommodates shared functions and the large entrance-cum-meeting rooms. Four compact stairwells that provide short circulation lines and rapid fire-evacuation times lead off from this area. The upper level (+3) is reserved for the laboratory and microscopy rooms.
Maximum light ingress with a floating volume clad in gold colour perforated aluminium sheets
By positioning the ground-floor facade inwards to a depth of 1 module it was possible to create a covered interior circuit. The floating volume is enveloped in gold colour perforated aluminium plates that function as fixed blinds for the auditoriums, microscopy and laboratory rooms. These allow a soft filtered light to permeate the building while also permitting views outside. The panels on the 3rd floor can be opened to allow maximum light into the practice spaces. Using the same material for both the façade and ceiling of the interior circuit, as well as the foyers, gives rise to a floating volume that, in the diffuse evening light, reveals a glimpse of its inner life to passers-by.
Prominent role for art on the campus with artist Perry Roberts
Art was integrated into the project through the work of Perry Roberts (UK). A photograph of students and teachers was punched into the gold colour aluminium facade panels. A reference to traditional class photographs, the image was rasterized into dots with 5 different diameters. The production of multiple panels, each of which is unique, was simplified through the use of the CNC-technique. When viewed close-up, the image appears to be abstract, but becomes readable at a greater remove.
Structural work is finishing work
META also deployed the ‘structural work is finishing work’ principle. By paying special attention to the basic structure, it was possible to dispense with several layers of finishing. The end result is a solid, student-resistant construction, with an interior completed in yellow pine plywood, needle felt carpet and highly polished stainless steel. Upon entering the building, the hardness and roughness of the materials creates a pleasing synergy.
As part of its long-term vision, the Infrastructure Department of the University Antwerp attaches great importance to a reliable and well-insulated exterior shell. The compact nature of the volume and use of multiple layers of suitable insulation enabled us to obtain low U-values that resulted in a very favourable K16. During the final testing for airtightness, the building registered at just below the passive standard.
"Operation Outer Campus is now completely behind us. We can now justifiably call the Drie Eiken campus our life sciences campus, thereby ensuring that our university is well equipped for the challenges of the future."
[ Alain Verschoren, rector of the University of Antwerp ]
West 8, an urban design and landscape architecture office based in Rotterdam, assisted META with the implantation and layout of the exterior surroundings.
For stability, technology, EPB reporting and acoustics META has collaborated with Tractebel.
Implantation and context
The Drie Eiken campus is located at the height of the Fort VI site in Wilrijk. Over the course of history, several interventions have shaped the built and unbuilt landscape into the image that we know today. The various faculties and their supporting facilities are dispersed throughout the area, which is punctuated with different atmospheric zones. Forest, avenue and orthogonal grid are some of the more remarkable aspects.