Case Study

College-O.-L.-V.-ten-Doorn, Eeklo, Belgium

Belgium / 2017


The vision of the College of Our Lady of the Thorn, in the small town of Eeklo in East Flanders, was to reorganise their facilities so that the Middle School would occupy a distinct part of the campus, and the current rigid distinctions between the academic and vocational streams of the Upper School would be mitigated.

We proposed a combination of selective demolition alongside new and refurbished buildings, and extensive landscape design to revitalise and unify the large campus. We used our experience with delivery of large BSF schools, colleges and private school campuses to suggest potential changes to the brief, both in terms of the building design and revitalising the overall campus. One such suggestion was moving the location of the new buildings to create decent entrances to both ends of the large site; another was to do with establishing new uses for the historically important buildings at the core of the site.

Thinking about the external spaces and landscape design was fundamental to the competition proposals. We sought to improve the quality of the spaces and routes within the site, and make much better links between the school and the town.





The Flemish government’s Scholen van Morgen programme aims to improve school buildings in Flanders, with substantial capital funds being allocated to schools which expressed an interest in participating in the programme. The delivery organisation is a private sector developer COPiD, working with standardised processes to deliver improvements to school buildings, and maintain them for a 30 year lease period. The selection process for design teams was based on pre-qualification through an open process, followed by a design competition. We were runners up to Herman Hertzberger’s office competing for a project in Geel, and entered for this project the following year.



The College’s campus has evolved from the gradual amalgamation of four catholic secondary schools; boys and girls, and vocational and academic, into a single unusually large federated school. The site occupies a series of long narrow plots within the town. These extend from the original church and convent buildings in the town centre, the historic heart of the school, out through extensive landscaped grounds and on to the town edge and the wide agricultural landscape of the Meetjesland. The special quality of the site stems from its integration with the town and the quality of the landscaped grounds of the former convent, although this has been diminished by successive generations of ad-hoc school buildings. However, the buildings and courtyards of the former vocational schools have a bleak character and incoherent form, which contributes nothing to the experience of staff or pupils.





How we worked

We entered the pre-qualification and competition as a joint venture with SMAK Architects, based in Antwerp. We took responsibility for the design; SMAK Architects took responsibility for the costing, design team and client liaison and working with the contractor during the delivery stages.

The competition stage landscape design was by Macgregor Smith, with whom we have collaborated very successfully on several schools.

Subsequent to winning the competition we worked closely with SMAK Architects and our Flemish design team to develop the proposals. Despite the differences in architectural practice between the UK and Belgium the communication was straightforward, using a digital exchange of BIM models, drawings and sketches to develop co-ordinated proposals.


Making it happen

We developed the design with the school and COPiD, attending regular meetings in Flanders and Antwerp, to meet the school, the design team and the key stakeholders. At an early stage we organised a visit to allow members of the school staff to see schools we have completed in and around London. This helped promote a shared dialogue and an understanding of what they wished to do.

Particular challenges included the listed status of some of the buildings, including one which was demolished, which necessitated research and dialogue with the Monuments Authority of Flanders. However, the biggest challenge was the terms of the PFI contract between the school and COPiD, which are designed to be completely risk averse. As a result it was not possible to include the landscape works which the campus so badly needs, nor has it been possible for the school to benefit fully from many of the lessons we have learned in the UK education sector.

In 2014 our team secured the building permit approvals for the proposals and issued the tender documents for the Scholen van Morgen framework contractors. Construction started in 2015, following a long tender and subsequent negotiating period, and the building was opened in Spring 2017. 

The school have produced a film about the new building  which gives a feel of the life of the project post-construction



College O. L. V. Ten Doorn (Belgium)









Our Role

Architect And Lead Consultant

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