OMA reveals plans to convert three vacant buildings into SNCB Headquarters, Brussels

The Dutch firm by Rem Koolhaas plans to overhaul the 1958 building and introduce a new office block for the national railway company with a cliff-like façade and circular windows.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Mar 02, 2020

Dutch architectural firm OMA, founded by architect Rem Koolhaas, has won a competition to design the office headquarters of the National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB/NMBS). The proposal involves the renovation of three monumental but derelict buildings on the Fonsny Avenue, and a new block facing the railway tracks in Brussels. It is the company’s first large-scale project in the country and will be executed with local studio Jaspers-Eyers.

Visualised aerial view of the development along Fonsny Avenue and the Brussels south station by OMA | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
Visualised aerial view of the development along Fonsny Avenue and the Brussels south station by OMA Image Credit: Copyright OMA

The old buildings’ inception goes back to the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. The ensemble was part of the Brussels South Station, marking the time when postal services were well connected with the rail network. Its conflicting grid patterns and uneven floor heights render a disjointed appearance and a much-needed overhaul.

“Contemporary Brussels is both historic and modern, national and European, regional and cosmopolitan. That is its essence – in the mediation between presumed opposites. It is this reality that our project intends to express. It is borne out of the creative tension between an expectation for the future, and a respect for future’s past,”says Reinder de Graff, partner at OMA.

The 11 storey new office block soars above the low rise brick clad buildings from the 50s  | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
The 11 storey new office block soars above the low-rise brick clad buildings from the 50s Image Credit: Copyright OMA

The firm has combined the former industrial buildings with a cliff-like eleven storey glass block. The entire development will add up to an area of 75,000 sqm, resulting in distinct spaces for the employees of SNCB.

Architects at OMA reveal the model of the development | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
Architects at OMA reveal the model of the development Image Credit: Frans Parthesius, Copyright OMA

The proposed layout is segregated in three formal zones – front, mid and back. The front office includes a three-storey entrance lobby and retail spaces in the new block which can be seen from the street as well as the tracks. The circular glazed windows on the façade dissipate at the lower levels to reveal this zone.

  • Proposed interiors of the development showing the entrance lobby | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
    Proposed interiors showing the entrance lobby Image Credit: Copyright OMA
  • Proposed interiors of the development showing the circulation spaces | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
    Proposed interiors showing the circulation spaces Image Credit: Copyright OMA

The mid office section is given space in the former Tri Postal building, a disused mail sorting office. It includes conference and training rooms, a 200-capacity auditorium, a fitness centre and a restaurant. The other two buildings from the 1950s and the proposed new block will occupy the back office. Rooftop gardens will also be woven through the three original buildings, bringing nature close to the working spaces.

A view of the new block overlooking the railway tracks | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
A view of the new block overlooking the railway tracks Image Credit: Copyright OMA

The office block rising above the three brick-clad buildings is conceived to bring a new impressionistic landmark in the neighbourhood. This building has no “back” in conventional terms. Its two faces poised in opposite directions – one overlooking the street and other, the tracks – reference a ‘serviceable analogy’ of the Janus-headed character of modern Brussels.

Exploded axonometric layouts | SNCB Headquarters | OMA | STIRworld
Exploded axonometric layouts Image Credit: Copyright OMA

“In its openness to the tracks, the building offers a playful disclosure of its inner workings – a move to convey the transparency of the organisation to the public it serves,” says a statement from the firm.

“The project embraces the Belgian Brussels, with its early, and often courageous expressions of modern architecture, and the European Brussels, for which the European railway and the Brussels-South stand as symbols,” sums up Graaf.

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