Preserving Bruges Charm: Seamless Integration of Architecture in EUROPE COLLEGE Project
The central issue at hand is how to seamlessly integrate new architecture into a historically rich environment. Bruges, a city known for its efforts to preserve its center, must strike a delicate balance between maintaining its urban charm and accommodating the demands of modern city life. To preserve the existing urban qualities, the city enforces strict regulations on factors such as scale, materials, and roof inclinations. Consequently, the use of concrete facades and large glass surfaces is strictly prohibited.
In the midst of this, a project is underway to add two new buildings to an old school campus, which will house a postgraduate law and economics school. The campus itself comprises a collection of historical structures arranged around a series of enclosed courtyards, accessible from three different streets. The two new volumes are replacing older, less valuable buildings. While the new structures stand independently from the old ones, they also redefine the courts, seamlessly integrating with the existing architecture. Additionally, the ground floor of these buildings has been designed to be partially open, creating a continuous flow with the courts.
The first of the two new buildings, N1, is primarily composed of classrooms and a central reception desk. On the other hand, N2 accommodates two lecture rooms, several offices, and a foyer on the ground floor. Notably, one side of N2 covers an outside entrance space to the campus, accessed through an existing gate on the main street.
To achieve a harmonious blend of old and new, a regular grid of prefabricated concrete elements serves as both the supporting structure and a filter for light. The concrete outer surface, polished to a whitish sheen, lends an air of elegance and acceptability to the material within the city's guidelines. Furthermore, the inclined surfaces of the concrete elements reflect sunlight indirectly into the rooms, creating a play of light and shadow. Behind this concrete structure lies a full glass facade composed of translucent glass elements and transparent windows. This combination of materials and design choices adds depth and texture to the building's facade, enhancing its visual appeal.
At the court level, the concrete elements continue their role, either as a screen or a fence. This reinforces the integration of the new buildings with the existing campus, creating a seamless transition between the two. Overall, this architectural project by the Xaveer De Geyter studio demonstrates a successful marriage of historical preservation and contemporary design, ensuring that Bruges retains its unique character while accommodating the needs of a modern educational institution.