Sep 20, 2017 Last Updated 11:00 PM, Sep 10, 2017

Three spherical overlapping forms make up a 750-place Belgian school

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The new Les Trèfles primary school in Anderlecht, Belgium, seamlessly blends educational innovation, sustainable design and attractive architecture.

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The exceptional design, by architectural firm, Árter of Brussels, was therefore selected for the ‘Exemplary Buildings 2012’ call for projects of the public authority, Brussels Environment-IBGE/BIM.

The school, which accommodates 750 children from ages four to 12, consists of four partially overlapping circles connected by wide walkways and an adjacent gymnasium. The three largest circles have classrooms in the ‘skin’ and sheltered round playgrounds in an open core. A two-storey circular building provides the entrance, technical areas and a caretaker’s lodge.

A new kind of primary school

Árter based the unique shape of the school on the name of the neighbourhood, Les Trèfles (The Clovers), and on studies by Japanese Professor, Mitsuru Senda. “He showed that round play areas elicit up to 20% more spontaneous movement,”

explains Architect, Patrick Vonck. “Moreover, circles have 20% less facade for the same area. Because of this, I could literally break up the standard school structure with an enclosed hallway, and use that corridor area for extra play space.”

In addition to the inventive layout, Árter’s school is also highly sustainable. With an energy use of only 12kWh/m2 per year, it achieves performance equivalent to that of a Passivhaus building. To achieve this, various techniques such as heat recovery, natural light, quadruple glazing with a built-in sun protection system, green roofs and rainwater recycling were used. Construction materials were also chosen based on their full lifecycle environmental impact.

For the facade cladding, Vonck chose – among other things – Rockpanel Chameleon boards. The facade cladding has been directly bonded to support the school’s clean aesthetic. “I was pleasantly surprised that I could specify a product which enhances the ‘cyclic’ aspect of the school, and at the same time achieve a BRE Green Guide A+ rating. Materials must be carefully chosen in ultra-low-energy buildings, so it is important that we are able to rely on manufacturers to provide the necessary testing and performance certification and on-site support,” states Patrick Vonck.

Panels that complement seasonal changes

According to Vonck, the boards also enhance the architecture of the building: “They are equipped with a crystal layer that, depending on the perspective and sunlight, has a surprising effect on the colour perception. The colour variation of the panels fits in wonderfully with the seasonal changes in the vegetable gardens around the circles.”

Rockpanel Chameleon boards were also routed to provide signage around the school building. The products are insensitive to weather conditions and moisture. As a result, after engraving, no special treatment was required, not even for the visible base plate. Thierry Laroy of general contractor, CFE Brabant, also highlighted the ease of handling as an important point: “I had no previous experience with the panels, but installation was no problem.”

The result is a beautiful complex of buildings in which, in addition to Rockpanel Chameleon, Rockpanel Natural and Colours are also used. Even before delivery, Vonck had received many positive reactions. “The local administration and other school boards were enthusiastic, there has been extensive media interest and neighbourhood residents have been admiring the magical colour changes.

“Personally, I feel it is a very successful project. The cyclic theme, the focus on sustainability and the material choice all combine and reinforce each other to create the ideal result,” concludes Vonck.

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