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

Building FE in Belgium

Eeklo is a market town in West Flanders, with an untypically large school, the College O.-L.-V.-ten-Doorn. This combines junior, middle and both vocational and academic high schools on a historic campus in the grounds of its founding convent.

Developed with SMAK Architects in Antwerp, our project uses a combination of selective demolition alongside the new and refurbished buildings, and extensive landscape design, to revitalise and unify the large campus. Executed over 5 years in three separate construction phases, our proposals revitalise large areas of the campus and transform its interfaces with the town.

The DBFM-programme Schools of Tomorrow comprises a need for detailed documentation throughout all the different design phases, and we must say vHH handled this new way of working smoothly, within an international context and team. As delegated developer for this project, we are pleased to see that not only our needs, but especially those of the school, are being fulfilled. The façade of the sports hall might be the most original, the most impressive one of our entire programme (which encompasses 182 school building projects). The play of light on the cassettes is simply great to see.

Philippe MONSEREZ, Program Director “Scholen van Morgen”

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The Flemish Government’s Scholen van Morgen programme aims to improve school buildings in Flanders, using a private sector developer COPiD and working with standardised processes to deliver and maintain projects for a 30 year lease period. The College’s vision was to use the funding to reorganise their facilities so that the Middle School would have a proper building with a distinct identity, as well as to improve their high school facilities to mitigate the historic distinctions between the academic and vocational streams of the Upper School.

In the competition and design process we used our experience with the delivery of large BSF schools, colleges and private school campuses, to suggest potential changes to the approach – both in terms of the building design and using landscape – of revitalising the overall campus. Thinking about the external spaces and landscape design was fundamental to our competition proposals, collaborating with McGregor Smith, with the late Mike Smith’s perceptive reading of the historic landscape of the campus and the surrounding ‘Meetjesland’ landscape of Flanders. We sought to improve the quality of the spaces and routes within the site, particularly in the bleak areas of the former vocational high school and make much better links between the school and the town.

We took responsibility for the design; SMAK Architects took responsibility for the costing, design team and client liaison as well as working with the contractor during the delivery stages. Following our competition win we worked closely with SMAK Architects and our Flemish design team to develop the proposals, attending regular meetings in Flanders and Antwerp to meet the school, the design team and the key stakeholders. Despite the differences in architectural practice between the UK and Belgium the communication has been straightforward, using a digital exchange of BIM models, drawings and sketches to develop co-ordinated proposals.

  • Project Details

    • Location: Eeklo, Belgium
      Client: College O.-L.-V.-ten-Doorn (Belgium)
      Area: 4593 m2

The special quality of the site stems from its integration with the town and the quality of the naturalistic ‘English Garden’ landscape of the former convent, although diminished by successive generations of ad-hoc school buildings. However, the buildings and courtyards of the former vocational schools have an almost industrial character and incoherent form, which contributed nothing to the experience of staff or pupils.

Our proposals combined the new teaching and sports facilities for the high school, which were envisaged by the brief as two separate buildings, into a single L shaped block at the threshold to the town, defining a generous open square and, for the first time, giving the College an obvious entrance.

The strongly geometric cladding of the first-floor sports hall provides a north façade that manages to catch the light and compensate for its (required) lack of windows, with the reception and study halls extensively glazed below.

Demolition of redundant buildings behind allowed us to create a large open quad, linking it to the rest of the campus and extending the green landscape into the core of the former vocational school. In common with many PFI contracts it proved impossible to get the full scope of the landscape proposals into the project, but the College has an excellent and active horticultural department. In time, we hope their expertise will enrich the planting in the new quad to realise the potential implicit in its design.

The brief sought to accommodate the Middle School in an existing 1970’s building at the south of the site. This had very poor internal spaces, with dysfunctional circulation and an inadequate environment. We stripped the building back to its bare bones; retaining just frame and roof we created a better entrance off a new landscaped arrival space, a new main staircase and lift, as well as complete replacement of the facades and building services. The project has completely   transformed the quality of teaching, learning and social spaces, and the refurbishment hugely improves the thermal performance of the envelope. With the new landscape at the entrance, the new facades give the Middle School a welcoming character and a distinct identity on campus.