With the opening of the municipal administration building in Willebroek, this small town between Antwerp and Brussels has been given a new landmark. The new building created by the Brussels design studio BRUT is integrated into the historical centre and is at the same time contemporary, comfortable, sustainable and future-proof.
Five years ago the city council in the Flemish town of Willebroek decided to locate its different administrations within a new building as part of a bigger plan to integrate the town’s public services. The result is a municipal administration building that breaks with tradition, fits neatly into the townscape and creates a new central meeting place for the town’s 25.000 inhabitants.
“We had a lot of constraints. These are quite densely populated streets. We needed to create a very big volume in a very small space, so we had to be inventive,” explains Gunther Slagmeulder, chief architect to the project and partner in the Brussels design studio BRUT, a young Belgian enterprise specialising in architectural projects and urban design.
The result is a building that aligns with the neighbouring houses but then folds into an intimate square, creating a new meeting place in the municipality while at the same time naturally pointing to the entrance of the building. The facade material has been chosen as a reference to the old town hall and the nearby church; two historical constructions covered in the same natural sandstone. But instead of keeping to the same colour, the new building is made in a pattern of tiles in different shades and sizes, giving it a vivid and contemporary look.
“It had to be expressive and stand out, so people can see that this is a public office and the building that citizens have to go to. So we exaggerated it and made a contemporary translation of the other key buildings in the area,” says Slagmeulder.
To maintain the privacy of the neighbouring houses the back of the building is defined by stepped terraces covered with green roofs, which create a pleasant green view from the inside offices while sheltering the surrounding gardens from view.
The layout of the building is designed to deliver a quick high-quality service with easy access to the different administrations from the reception areas. A large circular opening in the ceiling visually connects the two floors that are open to the public. Making people feel comfortable and at home has been a guiding principle for the interior design of the municipal administration building, creating a place where the town council, inhabitants and employees can meet formally as well as informally. The wooden inner walls are made as transparent as possible. Meetings take place behind glass and are visible to all. The different services are made recognizable by giving them each their own colour, subtly integrated in the interior.
Several big windows are cut out of the facade to underline the transparency and openness of the organization, altering the reception areas into light and pleasant lounges. The windows have wide, golden frames on the inside, making the views onto Willebroek look like framed pictures. On the top floors the citizens can literally look inside the mayor’s office and follow the way their town is being governed, as part of the town council’s ambition to become a transparent organization. This way the mayor will not lose contact with the citizens and their needs. The Willebroek municipal administration was inaugurated in 2012 and has become a new and much talked about landmark in the area, much to the joy of the architects behind it.