In 2015 the municipality of Edegem, south of Antwerp in Belgium, asked: “How can we create a future proof library & community center, reactivate a redundant site in the heart of the historic town and create a symbol of sustainable design?” Marc Koehler Architects came up with the idea to design a multifunctional, flexible and open community center which is entirely made of massive timber (CLT) and is harmoniously integrated with the existing monumental exhibition center Huis Hellemans and its garden.
For the residents of Edegem it’s an open house that invites people to meet, work, enjoy, read and experience. The open spaces that are now used as a library can be programmed with flexibility over time consisting of old and new media, relax, work and meeting spaces. The building reinvents the small-town cultural center for the digital age as a curated Landscape of opportunities for inspiration and communication. The building was officially opened in September 2021.
The new library is the cultural and leisure hub of Edegem and creates a ‘spatial and cultural link’ between the town square and sport complex site. Thus, it strengthens the social fabric of the historic village. It forms the new cultural hotspot of Edegem and is a catalyst for new cultural and social activities. Built with environmental responsibility at its core, two overlapping pavilion-like volumes, built from cross-laminated timber, are carefully positioned in a L-shape to separate the parking lot
from the historic garden of Huis Hellemans as an oasis for reading and reflection. The building brings together a number of functions that were scattered throughout the municipality: the library, Huis Hellemans, and several administrative services.
The center offers library spaces to read printed and digital media, an info desk and flex office space for different community organizations, a book café where you can work on your lap-top. It also accommodates course-, workshop- and meeting rooms. It also responds to the needs of local leisure clubs and artists can hold their exhibitions within these spaces. The centre also features a large staircase that acts like a stage for teachers to give guided tours to kids learning to use the library. The use of the different open spaces is curated by the librarians. The building is more than a place for books. It’s a place to meet, learn, relax and be inspired.
A perfect fit
The new community centre is located next to the existing, monumental Huis Hellemans, which offers exhibition space to artists. The location of the new community center is a protected village view and is characterized by a unique combination of an old bourgeois 19th century house, a rectory and an environment of historic garden walls with enclosed gardens. This makes the surroundings radiate a certain tranquility, even though it is right in the historic centre.
The open, transparent architecture and the positioning of the building provide new vibrancy to the streetscape and create a unity with Huis Hellemans, the garden and the presbytery with historic garden walls. What used to be a neglected and dark parking lot location that residents didn’t like to visit has now become a warm place where everyone feels welcome. The building is designed to be future proof. Bookshelves can be replaced by audio visual media and hybrid forms of working-, reading- and meeting spaces. Through this investment in community infrastructure, the aim was to maintain the livability and viability of Edegem’s historic center as an inclusive place for all ages.
Timber building in public domain
The new community centre in Edegem is the “Gold Standard” of the innovation in timber buildings within the public domain. The Belgian government demonstrates their willingness to adopt alternative building technologies, prefab construction and flexible architecture. The building is designed in timber which is a very healthy building material that “breathes”. It regulates humidity, absorbs noise and insulates.
As a bio-based material it is also an infinite resource and has a great embodied carbon performance: the building stores CO2 in its structure. So, rather than building in concrete and steel, timber has a climate positive effect. Other sustainability aspects are the green roofs, the smart ventilation system, the solar power, the heat pump and use of grey water to flush toilets.
The Statement for openness
The community centre in Edegem is a statement for openness and is the next installment in the timber revolution in Flanders. An open and transparent building requires original innovative ideas for solar protection and temperature control. This is the reason why the so-called “Dutch Climate Façade” has been applied to this building, as it utilizes passive solar energy. The sunshade is located within the air gap of the glazing suite and when there is excess sunlight, the sunshade automatically lowers to limit the solar gain.
The warm air within the air gap is extracted via the ceiling and is distributed to other rooms during the winter months. During the summer, the warm air from the air gap is discharged to the outside which prevents heat gain. This simple solution allows the building to maintain and maximize its transparent aesthetic. The tall ceilings also allow air to flow and prevent overheating in reading areas.
The large windows ensure the building feels like an open, accessible and inclusive place. The refined timber framework and facade are integrated in refined and minimal corner details that express a light monumental, transparent yet intimate and human centered structure. A symbol of a welcoming and supportive local government that believes in a climate positive future.
The unconventional collaboration from the project team was defined by the Edegem Community Council and the “Vlaams Bouwmeester”. As a result of an open call, Marc Koehler Architect was commissioned in 2015 to design the library of the future. Thanks to their support, an innovative design for a public building has been realised. Following on from the Ghent University Campus, Health Sciences Facility Building and the Loker Community Center, the Community Center Edegem is the third Timber Cultural Building that Marc Koehler Architects has designed.