The Kiel Youth Centre was built as an inspiring meeting place by, for and with kids and youngsters from ‘Kiel’, a neighbourhood in the south of Antwerp. Its diverse range of leisure activities offers a positive and stimulating environment for personal development. Fundamental to the design was the interpretation of the “genius loci”; connecting the past to the present and thereby creating opportunities for the future. The site was revitalized with minimal and restrained interventions to preserve its original character; a former conservatory and adjacent grounds. In short: The Kiel Youth Centre is an inspiring place to meet.
The new youth centre was created from an existing conservatory, originally designed by Antwerp’s former municipal architect E. Van Averbeke. In the 1950s, the conservatory was transformed into an event hall. An extension with service areas was added, and the large windows in the north façade were closed to reduce noise pollution. The design restores the north facade to its original state by reopening the large windows and removing the extension to make way for a large open in-between-space. This generous space functions not only as an entrance hall for the new extension, but for the existing monument as well. Even more importantly, the space creates a vibrant, open and polyvalent space for the exchange of ideas, passions and information.
Restoring the openings in the north façade allows daylight to flow into the conservatory through the glass entrance hall. It moreover offers views between the two buildings, thereby visually binding the old and the new. The exterior of the new extension is conceived as a “modern greenhouse,” characterised by a silhouette of a gabled roof and a glass facade. The modest volume is articulated by a subtle horizontal offset, making the volume seem even lighter compared to the heavy stance of the original conservatory.
The interior layout is conceived as a succession of open, multifunctional zones together with more intimate spaces and service areas. These service areas are organised as closed boxes for the “utility programmes” including sanitary facilities, dressing rooms, storage and technical spaces. They articulate a sequence of open and closed spaces. The central entrance hall is the heart of the layout and creates opportunities for shared use; for instance the event hall can be rented out independently so that day-to-day activities in the new building may continue unhindered. This spatial organisation reduces the building’s envelope: a basic rule of sustainable building. Thus the generous in-between space can be seen as an inexpensive “spatial gift”.
The new building forms one single fire compartment with the existing event hall. This approach made it possible to restore the original window openings with limited investment in acoustic and fire-resistant glazing. Moreover the new volume functions as an acoustic buffer to the neighbourhood, without sacrificing daylight in the conservatory and the entrance hall. A manufacturer of industrial greenhouses was integrated in the design team to be able to meet with the budgetary restrictions. The rhythm of the facade is designed as a grid pattern of 1.2m wide: a common and economical dimension for industrialised glass elements. These measurements owe much to the dimensions of the former conservatory, measuring a grid of 3.6m. This way, the facade feels like a natural addition to the conservatory, all within the constraints of the proposed budget.
From a wider perspective we feel that our design task, as architects, is to design structures as “an intelligent casco”: structures that allow changeable use, buildings and structures that successive generations can re-use. Such buildings survive time and become thereby timeless. This is a form of sustainability that is too often forgotten: social and emotional sustainability. These buildings become cherished elements of our collective memory. To re-use existing structures is the first step in achieving a sustainable construction; the Kiel Youth Centre extends the former conservatory’s lifespan through minimal, well-considered interventions. Furthermore the project adds a very flexible, but distinctive, space to the site that facilitates the personal development of many kids and youngsters from the ‘Kiel’ neighbourhood.