Sunday20 August 2017

A technical look at the articulated facade of Sergison Bates' Blankenberge library

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Sergison Bates has refurbished a derelict 19th century school building into a new public library in Blankenberge, Belgium

Architect Sergison Bates
Location Onderwijsstraat, Blankenberge, Belgium
Completion date May 2011

The coastal town of Blankenberge was badly bombed in the first world war, and the few buildings that survived are greatly valued. So it’s surprising that the most important building after the town’s church, a late 19th century secondary school, has been lying derelict since 1991.

Sergison Bates Architects, in its competition-winning scheme to convert the building into a public library, saw the clear benefits of the listed building (built 1882-83) with its 4m-tall spaces, lofty barn like roof and rooms of varying sizes.

“We thought the building was magnificent and the spaces luxurious,” says partner Stephen Bates. “It holds a strong place in the cultural memory of the town.”

Sergison Bates €5.6 million proposal involves the refurbishment and re-organisation of the building and the addition of two new three-storey wings or “pavilions” on either side.

The new wings will house a youth library and an administration department. They are linked by a new brick facade at the rear of the building, which acts as a circulation arcade connecting all the main spaces. The pavilions frame gateways allowing access through and under to a public car park at the rear.

The reworked three-storey and basement building allows Sergison Bates to explore the notion of a varied collection of interconnected rooms – some more open and lively, and others quiet and introspective – without depending heavily on the use of corridors.

New facades to wings and rear elevation

The rear facade to the original building was in a fragile state, lacking weather-tightness and effective insulation. Sergison Bates decided to add a new layer. Rather than being dismantled, the original elevation has been repaired, made structurally stable and cleaned, and a new facade built 1.5m in front of it. “It’s a tectonic facade, the weight comes down to the ground and there are no gymnastics here,” says Stephen Bates.

The new rear addition also houses a series of ramps to resolve the varying levels between the existing and new buildings. Bates says resolving the varying floor levels was the most technically challenging aspect of the project.

Using an in-situ concrete and blockwork structure, the facade is made up of a self-supporting Belgium purple/brown/grey coloured brick (190x90x50) with 30mm-wide vertical joints and 8mm horizontal. Fixed into the blockwork are small steel cavity anchors that help to support the bricks and give lateral stability.

A modification of a stretcher bond has been used to create a weave like effect in the brick elevation. The brick piers sit on precast acid-washed concrete rails and are fixed to the in-situ concrete structure with Isokorb. The rails are not aligned with the internal floor levels. This detail isn’t evident externally since the window openings incorporate solid insulated bronze panels (900 x 1,400mm) and conceal the higher floor level within.

The double-glazed window frames are made from unpolished champagne-bronze anodised aluminium and feature a full-height perforated aluminium screen 330mm wide, on one side that can be opened to allow for ventilation.

The elevation explores Sergison Bates’ interest in a rhythm of solid and void, with the full-height window openings contrasting with the width of the full-height brick piers. The windows gradually become narrower in the middle, while the piers stay the same width, creating an elevation that is subtly dynamic.

The same materials and detailing have been used for the new pavilions’ front elevations, however the solid panel to the window openings has been reversed. On the pavilions, the panel is located at the base while on the new rear elevation the panel is at the top.

Client Stadsbestuur, Blankenberge in association with Dexia Bank, Architect Sergison Bates Architects, Technical architect and Cost consultant Bureau Bouwtechnieck, Structural engineer Technum, Environmental engineer Studiebureau Boydens


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