Numerous small Flemish villages are characterised by a typical pattern of settlement. Seen from the radial roads, they appear to possess a certain density. In reality, however, their spatial structure is very much dispersed. The second line of buildings often includes gaps in the built fabric which are filled by meadows and open spaces. Zarren could be the prototype of such a village. Tractors and grazing cattle are to be found fifty metres from the church tower. In this context, the new De Linde primary school occupies a remarkable position. Its location behind the existing school, with no visibility from the street, is not self-evident. It does however fill in some of the blank spaces around the church, which enhances the compactness of the village.
A primary school should be a place of discovery and, crucially, one that involves and absorbs its environment. By intricately working a compact volume into these surroundings, FELT architecture & design has been able to take full advantage of the site’s assets. This intervention gives rise to generous spaces around the school with sufficiently large dimensions. These are places that can be entirely appropriated and where a special interaction arises with the existing infant school, the nearby residential estate, the meadows and the typical extensions of Flemish terraced houses. Meticulously positioned openings display partial views of this varied landscape and the large doors in the gymnasium also accentuate the thin line between inside and outside. They are windows on the world that offer an insight into the curious realm of the Flemish middle-class.
In its interior, this small building also houses a compact microcosm. The integration of the programme into an exciting configuration results in an unexpected spaciousness and an intense interaction between the individual rooms. The void between the dining hall and the gymnasium and the pale pink staircase add direction to the otherwise rational and economic structure of the school. Beneath the serrated roof, versatile areas emerge. Roof, void and staircase are used as elements that enable the spaces to merge into one another. The transparency between the rooms also emphasises their mutual interrelationship, while the application of a domestic and colourful range of materials creates, even in this openness, a warm interior.
The school is somewhat concealed, but is not hidden away. Its large playground can be used as an extension of the village square. Thus, the building provides the first initiative towards the turnaround of Flemish villages, whereby community functions are integrated into ample in-between spaces within walking distance of the church. This means the project does not lapse into the role of the typical school with its brick wall and gate on one or another radial road. The architecture is a reference to the existing infant school, but its volume is also reminiscent of the nearby church building, although without its tower. By means of this stateliness, the proportions in relation to neighbouring buildings, and the exceptionally detailed façades, this new school offers sufficient ‘counterbalance’ and can claim its own place, even from the second line of buildings, in the collective memory of the village.
- Isabelle Blancke
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.
FELT architecture & design: "Two projects of FELT were selected for Composite Presence: A trio of inner-city houses in Antwerp ,and the school De Linde
in the more rural town of Zarren.
This project deals with a typical urban issue as renovating a deteriorated patrimony in a quite radical way. This feauture of the project must have triggered the curator to select it for the exhibition. The school fits perfectly in the rhetoric of this exhibition, by being a kind of composite presence in its own right, conceived as an abstract collage of local vernacular elements."more about Composite Presence