by Jerry ElengicalOct 01, 2022
Solid concrete frames swathed in calming deep brick red describe Refuge, an autonomous garden pavilion nestled politely within a lush garden belonging to and flanking a single-family residence deep in Flanders’ suburban landscape in Belgium, created by NWLND Rogiers Vandeputte. Sure, soulful and simple, the pavilion mixes itself with landscape and intends simply, to bring peace and serenity to the garden and the house owners, “which was achieved through establishing clear relationships between the interior and exterior, and creating contrast through materiality, colour, and geometry,” share Bert Rogiers and Pieter Vandeputte, Founders, NWLND.
Rioting as a simpler, monotone and stripped down version of the plain, vari-hued walls of Bofill’s La Muralla Roja, the pavilion is a unembellished square volume, slightly rotated, with various openings along the vertical facades that provide access and views to the central space of the landscape architecture. A curved roof slices the ceiling open, where half of it remains open to the elements, bringing light, rain and breezes to meander with abandon the interior space.
"We named the project the Refuge because it was intended to be a retreat-at-home for the owner, a space of peace and quiet," reiterates the young architecture and urbanism studio based in Belgium, who create a spatial and compositional tension between the landscape and the home with the pavilion’s design and collateral architectural interventions.
The dwelling rests on a raised plinth, elevating its ground floor from the wild green context, which remained unkept after the house came up. Because of its raised stature, the brick villa enjoys a subtle sense of monumentality in contrast to the surrounding greens. The Belgian architect duo reveal that their client requested a plan to structure and rethink this wild forest in question. A vegetable garden, chicken coop, yoga platform, bike shed, studio space, swimming pond and small pool house were to be added to the terrain which is home to looming pine trees that instantly elevate the setting into a picturesque, music video-worthy one.
Thus, NWLND began restructuring the site by positioning the Refuge garden pavilion in the centre of the garden, according to the double-axis of the villa and the bent parcel boundaries of the site. The slightly rotated orientation relates to the twisted lot boundaries, a gesture that structures the entire backyard. A set of landscape elements were selected and placed to surround the Refuge, including a filter pond, patio, bicycle shed, and storage room. “Instead of designing a swimming pond alongside the garden pavilion, we decided to incorporate it within its perimeter,” the architects share.
It also contains a swimming pond and an etching studio that witnesses decoration in the form of precisely cut openings that frame the landscape beautifully, where the built verticals are finished as a red concrete architectural shell that sings in contrast to its green surroundings. The rust red is informed directly by the orthogonal order of the existing house and the newly added landscape elements which are also garbed in the same deep hue.
A large sliding window falls in line with the house and divides the Refuge into a hard exterior and a softer, isolated interior. The formwork panels of the striking red concrete architecture were reused for the interior cladding, the pigment lending it a red tint. The floor pass of the Refuge is in level with the house and elevated from ground level as well. Circular outdoor spaces were created around the home and the Refuge garden pavilion to intensify the relationship between the interior and the exterior. An internal wall running parallel with the exterior form functions as a kitchen and hides the bathroom and storage space. Where finishes are needed, the formwork plates are recovered to make light insulated retaining walls.
NWLND created a circular ‘hortus conclusus’ (Latin for enclosed garden, typically with a water feature) to complete the shape of the cut-out from the roof plate, and is framed by a glass wall facing the roof, that defines the inside from outside. The landscape design grows out of this to complement the building quietly. “The circle is used as a visual language for the abstracted version of a clearing in the forest. Every frame that arises throughout the space engages in a dialogue with the existing house and nature,” says Rogiers.
One arrives at the Refuge from the main residence via a narrow, new garden path that knives through the pavilion, the entrance a cut-out from the red concrete shell, flanked on either side by trees and a small vegetable garden. The path runs oblique to the swimming pond but parallel to the glass wall of the pool house. The interior of the pool house is serene and gives a sense of harmony and belonging, to the surrounding nature. A small, cosy etching studio sits downstairs, accessed by a set of asymmetrical stairs. If one walks through the Refuge and continues down the garden path that links several landscape elements, they eventually end up at a curved yoga platform, completing a blissful journey through the garden.
Our approach to architecture is pragmatic and collaborative. We are not in search of spectacle or fashion, but of precision, clarity, durability and timelessness. – Bert Rogiers and Pieter Vandeputte, Founders, NWLND
The red concrete mass is to be perceived as a pensive skeleton, susceptible to becoming a ruin over time and allowing nature to take over. The twisted pavilion with the concrete skin features an overflow filter pond and the patio that illuminates the route and preamble of the underground etching studio, bordered by brick walls. They follow the axes of the house and were made with the bricks left over after the construction of the house. “In this way, a dialogue is created between the house and the Refuge,” says Vandeputte.
When examining the concrete samples, not only was the colour of the concrete itself taken into consideration but also the colour of the formwork panels, as the pigment used to colour the concrete soaks into the plywood. Instead of discarding these plywood panels after de-moulding, the nails were taken out and the panels are gently cleaned. They were then used as a finish for the insulated inner shell of the pavilion. The parts of the plywood that are uncoloured are due to the recesses in the formwork for openings in the concrete walls, and these unpigmented portions of the plywood give a hint of its origin as formwork and provide a contrast in colour and texture. All of the metal joinery and metal elements in the garden are painted in the same deep red – “a red that fits well in the green environment,” according to NWLND.
Outlining the simple sustainable strategies employed apart from reusing the formwork panels as interior cladding, a heat pump was also utilised for heating purposes, powered by PV panels which are located on the roof of the existing house. The lighting fixtures used in the project are also reused lamps from an old office tower.
"We believe in keeping things simple. We respect what is existing, and understand that our interventions should enhance but not overpower the existing condition, nor should they jeopardise the future of a site. We do this by looking for guidelines in our surroundings - that is to say, in nature, heritage, history, people and their stories - finding structure in it and ultimately creating a sound project with a clear point of view, without compromise. The result is never an ending but an opening towards new opportunities and ways of life,” the Belgian architect duo relay, summing up their pragmatic, contemplative and contextual approach to creating minimal architecture.
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: NWLND Rogiers Vandeputte
Landscape: Jeroen Provoost
Structural engineer: Util
Contractors: Concrete - Patrick Janssens Festoo, Festoo Constructs; Windows - Allaert Aluminium; Interior - ILB