The new State Archive in Ghent is situated within the historic centre of the city. Its principal frontage is onto a broad street of bourgeois houses where the width allows it to accommodate some public buildings. From here the Archive stretches back into the interior of the urban block. In contrast, this is densely built up and accessible only through a network of narrow streets that address small workers cottages. The two volumes that combine to form the mass of the building are meticulously matched to the differentiated scales of these surroundings. A sturdy corner, which houses the archive storage, extends the pattern of the main street, while the volume behind adheres to the cornice height of the smaller houses. Below, a glazed entrance extends to form a continuous, transparent band, wrapping and animating the building at ground level. A decision to place part of the archive underground makes space available for a small public square at the rear of the site, creating a new sense of openness in the heart of this dense 19th-century urban setting and giving something back to its residents.
The new volume is meticulously matched to the scale of the surrounding buildings. This sturdy corner building keeps to the pattern of the street onto which it fronts, while the volume behind adheres to the cornice height of the surrounding streets and alleys. The glazed entrance is extended into a continuous transparent horizontal band that wraps around the building. Part of the archive is housed underground. This makes space available for a small public square at the back, in the midst of this dense 19th-century urban setting.
New Project Data
Robbrecht en Daem architecten -
At the base of the white closed volume facing the main street an enclosed auditorium and conference room takes up the critical corner emplacement. It houses a teaching space used for lectures, its walls are lined with custom-made wooden acoustic wall panelling. Together with this lecture theatre, the reading room is used daily by students of the Ghent University. In this way this new buildings functions as a contemporary extension to the already existing university campuses nearby.
The glazed entrance gives onto a spiral-shaped walkway which circles around the deeper-lying conference room and up to the reception area of the building. Glazed on both sides, the walkway and its facades extend into a continuous transparent horizontal band that wraps around the building’s four facades. Situated half a level above the adjacent street, this floor houses all logistic functions and the open office space of the State Archive, and has an immediately relation and visibility towards passers by and the houses across the street.
One floor up, the reading room is double height and lit by 17 roof lights that allow natural light to flood in, referencing to traditional studios. The fragmented ceilings of the roof lights are lined with acoustic panelling and hide the artificial lighting and technical equipment. Painted white, they guide the incoming northern light into the room as it floods across the sloping ceiling. A continuous horizontal line at man height runs along all walls of the room, inside and out, and additionally frames windows, doors, storage room and inbuilt furniture. Executed in a wooden acoustic wall panelling finished with a dark walnut veneer, these surface, together with the dark terrazzo floors add to a sheltering atmosphere in the reading room.
Part of the archive is housed in the corner volume, but the mass of the over 40km’s worth of archival documentation is stored in two identical underground levels. They are housed inside of a doubled concrete shell which forms the foundation of the building, and which allows for specific climatic conditions to be maintained.
The concrete shelves or windowsills are not only a formal intervention but they significantly contribute to the passive design of the building. They work as sunscreen to avoid overheating in the offices and reading room and prevent sunlight from falling directly into the rooms and onto archival documents. On the inner façade, adjusted controlled openings allow users to operate windows and therefore naturally ventilate interior spaces. Further adding to the energy efficiency of the building, photovoltaic panels are integrated on the south-facing roof lights, while north-facing light falls in.
Sustainable measures which are integrated in the building:
• Large buffer basins to absorb rainwater
• High performance glazing throughout
• Focus on a highly insulated building skin and airtight building details with blower door testing
• Balanced system of climate control, essential to the optimal preservation of documents, film, objects etc. in the archive’s depots
• Adapted lighting following the principles of low energy consumption through daylight control systems for all public areas and sensor activated lighting throughout the building
• Careful position of openings in facades and roofs with roof lights allowing for plenty of northern light to flood into the public areas
• South-facing photovoltaic / solar panels are mounted on top of all roof lights for energy recuperation and production
• White reflective surface on both facades (glazed bricks and white-coated aluminium cladding) and roofs (white roofing and white-coated zinc standing seam roof) for minimal heat accumulation throughout the building’s skin
The use of natural materials, the contribution of public transport and a clear vision about giving new value to the historic centre with its old spatial structures, are some of the elements that broadly flesh out sustainability for the future. The centre of Ghent once again becomes a social spot for people.
The white brick facades with their pale ceramic layer give the building a light and explicit luminosity in the diverse cityscape and narrow street scene. Their rounded edges of the towering corner volume reference Henry van de Velde’s architecture of the university building a few streets away.
The concrete shelves are repeated above all windows as well as on the blind facades of the towering corner volume. They refer to windowsills, but also to bookshelves or simply shelves. An early design sketch shows these shelves filled with plates, or with small statues and other objects from a museum collection that are never exhibited. They allow for an on-going dialogue with the broader cultural field through specific details in architecture.