Knowledge Centre - Roeselare
BURO II & ARCHI+I
Award category for entry:
Building & Architecture
Taken into production / produced on:
A city project for Roeselare
From KBC Bank to Knowledge Centre
The site of the former KBC Bank of Roeselare is barely 100 metres away from the Market Square of Roeselare. Nevertheless, the spacious area of 7.9 acres - fully enclosed between the encompassing buildings of the most spacious building block in the city - is virtually unknown to the locals. But everyone remembers the stately nineteenth-century town-house in neo-classical style on the Noordstraat 38, which was taken into use in 1924 by the then brand-new Middenstandsbank. In 1935, the bank was re-named the ‘Bank van Roeselare en West-Vlaanderen’. Unlike most other banks, this bank did not have its headquarters in Brussels, but in its own region. After the war, it became the engine for the growth and success of commercial and industrial development in the centre of West Flanders. It had a tremendous significance for the city, similar to the role played by Bekaert for Zwevegem or Picanol for Ypres: it was the entrepreneurial heart of the region. The heritage building therefore underwent a rapid growth. In the early nineties - when the bank was absorbed by KBC - it occupied about one third of the inner area between Noordstraat and Ooststraat. Restructuring in the banking sector was responsible for the site losing its local interest soon afterwards, and eventually it was put up for sale.
Because of its central location, its large surface area and the historic importance of the spot, re-zoning this area, along with the surroundings of the station, became one of the key elements in the global redesign of the Roeselare town centre. Put slightly differently: this was the ideal opportunity to develop new possibilities in the centre and to improve existing, less well-functioning businesses.
The immediate proximity of the busy and expansive shopping area instantly attracted investors keen to convert the site to a large shopping centre, complete with houses and offices. However, despite so much good will, the project barely got off the ground. That is, until a group of local investors – perhaps motivated by the history of the spot? – took over the matter and initiated the drawing up of a master plan, which would reflect the input of everyone, including the city.
The study by BURO II & ARCHI+I was based on a new multifunctional inner city development: apartments, retirement flats, shops, offices, hotel, parking garages ... But it was not only setting its sights on incorporating this varied functionality, the focus was also on structural intervention which would bestow a lasting added value on the centre. The huge building block was divided in two, so that henceforth a direct public connection could be created from the A. Rodenbachstraat by way of the H. Consciencestraat to the station. This operation transforms the private inner area into a new public space newly added to the city. So, too, a commercial connecting loop is created, linking the shopping streets of Ooststraat and Noordstraat together into one large pedestrian shopping precinct.
The earlier idea of a covered shopping gallery was abandoned. Instead, new squares were envisaged, which would provide a pleasant and qualitative urban environment for the inhabitants, users and visitors of the shops, homes and offices. Beneath the squares and buildings, a large public parking area was planned, which in due course was intended to allow the Market Square to be totally free of cars.
To make such a site truly viable and fully integrated into the historic city centre, apart from private development, what is also needed is effective participation on behalf of the city. After all, even people who do not live, work or shop in the area should feel attracted to regularly pay a visit.
This participation came when the city purchased the centrally located office complex from KBC, with the intention of reallocating it to become a new public city library. But then not just any library. The ambitions were set very high: it was to become an intense collaboration between the cultural and educational services. The new library would unite the progressive, social and cultural insights and expectations of both and achieve a complete design. The brainstorming ultimately resulted in a concept for an ‘open knowledge centre’, aimed at all ages, school networks or community groups. The knowledge centre, which had meanwhile acquired the name BIB+ (LIB+) will bring a large influx of students to the new centre during the day. But passing shoppers or local residents will also be encouraged to use the facilities. In the evenings, the variety of cultural activities will energise the neighbourhood. The building will transform itself into a lighthouse and give substance to the image of Roeselare as a ‘City of Light’. The parking beneath the square, will be given an entrance through the lobby of ARhus, so anyone visiting the city or going back home can be maximally involved in the initiatives. On the top floor, there is access to a large roof garden, which is open for private and shared use. In this way, the legacy of the Bank of Roeselare is held in respect whilst the site again attains a great symbolic value for the region.
The fact that such an important project in the centre of Roeselare, capital of one of the most dynamic regions in Flanders, is coming into existence through a public-private partnership will probably surprise no-one.
That this is happening on the site of the former bank is perhaps more than a happy coincidence. But that in drafting and working out the master plan, full investment has also been made into culture and social education will probably be considered amazing, because the city is still perceived by many people as a purely commercial centre.
Not only the specific interpretation but also the approach have caused BURO II & ARCHI+I to view this project to leverage its own development. During the long and complex process, the architect (and urban planning expert) was given a key role which was much broader and more intense than in most projects. The architect, as driving force behind the project, which binds and guides the public and private partners on the difficult road to quality, is new and challenging. It was an extraordinarily enriching experience to be able to implement and apply all the knowledge and insights into one’s own city in one of the most important urban developments in Roeselare in recent decades.
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