Studio Farris Architects has completed a new residential project in Zottegem, a small city in East Flanders, Belgium. An urban redevelopment and regeneration scheme, it is located on the site of the former OLV Collegium, a 19th century building in Zottegem’s center. The project’s integration of contemporary and historic architecture reconnects this once abandoned site to the city’s urban fabric.
OLV Collegium, a former neo-Gothic school built in 1862, was a neglected building in Zottegem’s historic center and was damaged by a fire in 2012. Purchased by a developer in 2017, Studio Farris Architects was selected to design a masterplan for new homes and public underground parking. In line with the studio’s philosophy, it set out to uncover the project’s potential by exploring the site’s context and heritage. The studio’s approach was to regenerate the run-down area by re-establishing a connection between the site and the city’s historic core. Its aim was to reveal “the inherent beauty of the old school” through a contemporary intervention.
The project includes a cluster of buildings assembled around a large courtyard, with 65 apartments spread throughout the historic collegium building and the new extension. “The building of the former collegium has been substantially reconstructed after the fire,” says Studio Farris Architects. “The original identity of the construction has been respected on the sides facing the streets, while towards the inner part of the block the building expresses greater complexity.” The contemporary extension features stepped terraces that offer views across the city and heighten the sense of livability.
The project’s environmental approach sought to make the site open and green. To increase longevity and reduce energy consumption, Studio Farris Architects ensured each building was well insulated — mineral wool insulation was used because it is made from recyclable materials. Natural resources are also harvested — rainwater, for example, is reused to maintain other parts of the building. The contemporary extension is constructed with volumes that “cascade outwards”, ensuring sunlight is able to penetrate throughout the day.
The project’s architecture is designed to “promote connectivity in terms of pedestrian movement through its multiple entrances,” says Studio Farris Architects. The design also supports the site’s natural ecosystem: “By deliberately removing bricks from the existing facade, small gaps were created that allow birds to pass through,” the studio explains. “The configuration of the urban block also provides protection from adverse weather conditions and a safe place for birds to build their nests.”
As a whole, the new scheme establishes a connection to Zottegem’s urban fabric. “The residential area was given a more intimate character to allow inhabitants to enjoy the synergy between the old and the new within a serene living atmosphere,” says the architect. By creating continuity with the surrounding area and adding a sense of freshness and renewal, it is hoped the development will work to foster a sense of civic pride and belonging.
Total built area: 16,100 square meters (173,299 square feet)
Plot surface area: 4,990 square meters (53,712 square feet)
Courtyard: 1,050 square meters (11,302 square feet)
Apartments: 65 units measuring from 60 square meters (646 square feet) to 150 square meters (1,615 square feet)
Retail: a single 100-square-meter (1,016-square-feet) retail space
Floors: vary from 3 to 5 levels
Public parking spaces: 100
Private parking spaces: 75
New facade: plaster
Original facade: brick
Roof: wood with natural slate
Windows: wood and aluminum