For many years, the Ryhove sheltered workshop has employed people with a disability in the midst of a densely built-up district of Ghent, in the angle formed by Rooigemlaan and Drongensesteenweg. The staff work on products ranging from packaging material to high-quality printed materials and, until recently, the tasks were conducted in a succession of old industrial buildings and sheds that had been supplemented in an ad hoc fashion. In other words, the company is deeply rooted in its urban setting. Furthermore, the location of the organisation symbolises its social role. It occupies a prime logistical position near a major arterial road, with the added advantage that most of its employees live nearby. It did not take long, therefore, to reject the self-evident course of moving a rapidly-growing company to an anonymous industrial estate. This gave rise to the brief to design an extension that could become the new face of an industrious enterprise at the heart of the Ghent neighbourhood where it had long been established.
TRANS architectuur | stedenbouw reconciles the apparent incompatibility of the industrial activity and the surrounding housing by means of an effective architectural gesture. They adopted the profile of the roofs of the terraced houses in the street to create an elongated volume in which to situate the company’s offices. The concrete structure stands outside the building’s envelope so that the columns can resonate with the pattern of the terraced houses in the street frontage. The horizontal lines of the windows also enter into a dialogue with the neighbouring buildings. The ground floor, containing meeting rooms, is lifted several steps above ground level so that daylight can pass through the windows below, thereby illuminating the car park. These height differentials create a façade that is reminiscent of the many town houses that are designed to avoid people on the street looking inwards. Here, the frontage mediates between the offices inside and the housing function of the surrounding urban fabric. At the corner of the building, the extended horizontal lines create a high reception area for clients and visitors. An elegant metal staircase at its centre leads to the office level, where the wooden structure of the roof suggests rooms in what is otherwise an entirely uninterrupted workspace.
The view of the ends of the three linked roofs is sufficient to make the building appear distinctly industrial. The two bays furthest from the street form a gateway to a yard. The ends of the volume hovering above this gateway are supported by three columns which, as in the street façade, stand just before the façade of the adjacent shed. The door between the columns reveals a lift-shaft and stairwell, the somewhat concealed connection between the aforementioned shed and the office building. On the yard, the ground gradually slopes down towards a loading bay. Above this we see the characteristic shape of the roof one more time, now reduced to the absolute minimum so as to shelter the loading area from bad weather. This form makes the switch between the industrial and the human scale throughout the project, but ultimately lends a worthy architectural face to a company with a substantial added social value, and this within the intriguingly ambiguous context in which it is housed.
- Petrus Kemme
This project is published in Flanders Architectural Review N°14. When Attitudes Take Form
This project is part of the exhibition Composite Presence in the Belgian pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.
TRANS architectuur stedenbouw: "Ryhove is a manufacturing company that was inserted in a residential context. This versatile character is supported by a peculiar and surprising application of industrial building logic."more about Composite Presence