by Jincy IypeJul 21, 2023
Adapting an architectural language that is reminiscent and representative of the largely modernistic sensibilities of the Tilburg University, Rotterdam-based Powerhouse Company has designed a mass timber extension to the facility to serve as a comprehensive lecture hall. Sitting on a relatively small footprint of 33m x 33m amid a wooded landscape just off the main campus, the building comprises 14 lecture rooms, self-study areas, and a large foyer, along with numerous other student facilities. Outwardly, the structure’s limestone cladding is a callback to similarly styled buildings on the university’s main campus, some of them dating back to the 60s, anchoring the modernist influence. Owing to the design of the structure acting as a meeting point between the cubical form and circular design principles, the team at Powerhouse Company sportively imparts the project the moniker of a “circular cube”.
With its structure designed predominantly using cross-laminated timber, the lecture hall looks to serve as a pioneer in educational architecture in the region. This it plans to accomplish in terms of both, the hard, concrete facts it presents and the consumptions it cuts by use of sustainable design principles, and in its more softer aspects of aiming for long term resident well being through its materiality. Within its timber design scheme, the sizeable challenges the building overcomes transform into technical accomplishments in structural design and timber construction in the final iterations of the proposal.
Its wooden rib floors span 9 metres in total without additional vertical supports, while meeting the complex demands put up by an educational building. The structure is also designed to be ‘demountable’, staying true to the circularity of its design principles, employing nearly 4.6 kilometres of timber beams that can be unmounted and reused in the future. The same principle also extends to the building’s facade design, with the limestone panels ‘hanging’ on an exterior assembly, rather than permanently glued, allowing recycling. “Our details look simple and self-evident, but pioneering the technical junctions in collaboration with different disciplines was a challenge”, states Romano van den Dool, BIM Engineer at Powerhouse Company, on overcoming these challenges in the final design.
Apart from materiality and form, a set of precise adjectives drive home the intended aura of the building, that seeks to transcend the aforementioned qualities, often remarkable in most great pieces of architecture. Its roots may be formed in an overcoming sense of history that rushes through the new lecture hall’s design, inspired by the first structure on campus: Jos. Bedaux’s 1962 Cobbenhagen building, now a listed monument. The original design by Bedaux reflected the university’s Catholic roots with a modernist twist, lending it the precision of a linear edifice, and the peaceful architectural character of a monastery. Complete with rhythmically placed, often narrow slit-like windows, and an intrinsic relationship between the interiors of the space and its exteriors, the idea that the woodland structure “has always been there” takes quaint precedence.
The interiors of the structure and individual sub-spaces within develop with the same principle through generous usage of timber, imparting even fixtures and especially furniture intrinsicity to the design. A natural palette, composed of wood, stone, and plaster, adorns the lofty sculptural space of the main lecture hall, and the intimately formed window niches, intended as spots for student interaction. Besides the exposed structural timber, wooden tables and benches line the interior spaces to exude a sense of serenity and holistic calm. A particularly curious intervention are the cruciform reading lamps, echoing the monastic sensibilities of the building.
The four individual facades too subsume different proportions and compositions, akin to a rubik’s cube, in response to the avenues they face and provide access to - the forest, parkland, accommodations, and the main route to the train station serving the campus. Along with a different level of detailing in the patterns of the facade and window distribution reflecting interior spaces, each side further uses varying avenues - between footpaths, views, and sightlines - to establish a connection, something the campus design intrinsically prizes.