In 2015, a planning team made up of Ghent-based Abscis Architecten, Hasselt-based UAU Collectiv, Rotterdam-based Atelier Kempe Thill, and Antwerp-based LAND landschapsarchitecten won a collective competition to redevelop the Herkenrode site. Located in the center of the city of Hasselt in north-eastern Belgium, the Herkenrode site first served as a military barracks and later fulfilled a number of functions for the federal government. The winning project proposal would seek to combine the site’s historical heritage with a program of modern and sustainable urban development.
The completed redevelopment of the Herkenrode site mixes new residential buildings with buildings made available to UHasselt (Hasselt University). The once sober, closed-off site has been transformed into a more informal place for residents, university staff and students, and visitors. Drill grounds previously used to train infantry soldiers have been reimagined as a green urban garden park. A 19th century stately barracks building was repurposed by UAU Collectiv for use by UHasselt. Adjacent to this building, a historic 16th century property, formerly a refuge house of the ancient Herkenrode Abbey, was redeveloped by Abscis Architecten, also for use by UHasselt. A damaged 20th century structure on the site was demolished and replaced with a new “park villa”, a residential building designed by Atelier Kempe Thill.
The development and supply of new housing, a key part of the project, necessitated a strategic approach that would also address the Herkenrode site’s historic context. Atelier Kempe Thill designed a nine-story residential winter garden building — set within the garden park, the building’s transparent, airy form ensures an open relationship with the surrounding site. “On the one hand, this strives for a contrast to the stone and rather heavy brick architecture of the block perimeters in order to emphasize the break with history and underscore the spatial distinctiveness of the park,” says the studio. “On the other, an attempt was made to design the building in a more reserved manner, ensuring it does not dominate.” Seeking to achieve a car-free zone within a densely developed and busy city center location, a two-story underground garage was built beneath the structure.
Atelier Kempe Thill’s park villa is a compact building with a ground area measuring 19 x 33 meters (62 x 108 feet). The basic structure was realized with a combination of on-site concrete and prefabricated components. The building’s facade and core make up its load-bearing elements. Within the structure, no additional walls were needed from a construction perspective: “Just eight supplementary columns are required, partially combined with the shafts for cables and pipes,” explains the studio. “Around the isolated volumes, a circumferential zone of winter gardens was designed.” The winter garden balconies are 2.7 meters deep (approx. 9 feet) on the building’s east and west sides and 1.7 meters deep (approx. 5.5 feet) on its north and south sides. The building has two elevators and one internal staircase. It is accessed via a large double-height hallway, a clean, open space that is finished with exposed concrete walls, polished concrete flooring, and a freestanding oakwood wall and bench.
Atelier Kempe Thill designed a structure with a flexible layout, creating 50 differently sized apartments measuring from 47 to 190 square meters (506 to 2,045 square feet). It was the studio’s intention that the building should be occupied by a social mix of residents. The building’s ground and first floor levels are duplex apartments, meaning bedrooms are not located on the ground floor. The structure was raised slightly above ground level in order to afford the duplex living spaces with a certain degree of privacy — a raised planter bordering the circumference of the building offers an additional amount of separation from the garden. Apartments on the lower floors are oriented towards the garden and perimeter development; those on the fifth floor and above enjoy views across Hasselt. Two penthouse apartments each have a large rooftop terrace.
Winter gardens are designed to enhance the quality of life for residents. Moreover, they temper the amount of solar energy from the sun in warmer months while acting as a buffer in colder months, retaining heat indoors. Balcony facades, floors, and indoor floors are finished with wood, adding warmth to the apartments.
To create the new building as part of the Herkenrode site’s redevelopment, Atelier Kempe Thill drew on the studio’s experience with social housing projects. “What has been created as a result of the strategic merging of urban and suburban qualities is an affordable, ideal model for urban housing beyond the notion of a social subsistence level,” says the studio. “With its large winter gardens, a flowing relationship between inside and outside, loft-like layouts, and high-quality materialization, the project can be regarded as a real alternative to the prevailing Flemish model of residing in single-family houses.” Furthermore, the building — a park villa — enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding stone block perimeter development and is part of a new urban core for Hasselt.
Site area: 8,470 square meters.
Building footprint: 632 square meters insulated surface; 886 square meters insulated surface, including winter gardens; 1,127 square meters insulated surface, including winter gardens, entrance square, and planters.
Building size: 5,410 square meters insulated gross floor area; 7,509 square meters insulated gross floor area, including winter gardens; 360 square meters roof terrace penthouse.
Building volume: 23,500 cubic meters gross volume; 17,115 cubic meters insulated volume (±70%); 6,210 cubic meters winter gardens (±30%).