“Ceci n’est pas … een administratief centrum.” The Flemish Government Architecture Agency‘s competition outline to design a new municipal complex in the Bruges countryside contained a clever nod to René Magritte’s iconic painting, and Carlos Arroyo‘s winning design, which opened for business last month, definitely manages to subvert any existing staid stereotypes. “They wanted designers to think what a city hall can be, rather than making assumptions on what it is supposed to be,” the Madrid-based architect tells Co.Design. “They had a vision of an open house, a public space for a transparent government; this was very explicit throughout the brief.” His applied a motto of his own–“do little to achieve lots”–to the project, a stunning example of thoughtful, responsible adaptive reuse that’s fun but not twee, playful but not pandering.
The site of a standing 11,000-square-meter facility (once owned by Coca-Cola) provided the blueprint for OostCampus, the new headquarters, which Arroyo wanted to keep as close to the original layout as possible. “If we demolish an existing structure and build again, we will use more energy and resources than the most efficient of buildings can save in its life span,” he says. The somewhat oppressive reality of the “famous Belgian bad weather” was also major factor in the design. “You would think that locals would be used to it by now, but everyone kept complaining about the rain,” he says. An already sky-high, nine-meter-tall roof allowed for a unique way to embrace the elements from the inside out. “I thought that a sheltered public space linking all the elements of this ‘campus,’ complete with an LED sun among the clouds, would be a good idea.” This reinterpretation of nature also extended to the exterior, where a screen printed with the image of a forest above the bike racks and trompe l’oeil columns became a “simple and easy–but effective–way to deal with an ugly façade,” he says.
Arroyo spent six months workshopping with civic employees “to establish the right arrangement in terms of work flow, privacy, growth potential, maintenance, and acoustics,” he says. “It had to be an exciting space that the citizens could be proud of.” His approach has garnered him a unique accolade–“duurzame exuberantie.” “It translates as ‘sustainable exuberance,’” he says. “I use very strict criteria for sustainability, and I want that to exciting. I do take it as a nice compliment.”