A multi-functional centre at the heart of Europe
The main objective of the China-Belgium Technology Center (CBTC) Smart Valley is to enable innovative Chinese and European companies (both start-ups and well-established businesses), to find synergies and develop pilot projects. Eventually, the centre will host around 200 companies and 1,500 jobs in the Science Park of Louvain-la-Neuve, a university town 30 km to the south of Brussels. The CBTC will bring together companies around five activity poles linked to technology and life sciences: biotechnology, electronics and optoelectronics, information and communication technology (ICT), green engineering and sustainable development. The project, which also includes a start-up incubator, will offer a welcoming work environment – flexible and modular.
In addition to the 75,000 m² of office space, companies will have access to a range of complementary services organized around the public square. The CBTC includes a 172-room hotel (8,000 m²), and a multipurpose conference centre (5,000 m²) complete with restaurants, a postal pick-up point, a dry-cleaning service, and convenience stores. Logistical infrastructure and an 812-space underground car park (30,000 m²) provide the finishing touches to the functional programme.
At its centre: a place to meet, connect and make chance encounters
The success of a tool for innovation such as the CBTC will depend on regular interactions and encounters between the people working there. The role of the architect is to put in place the conditions for serendipity. We have therefore articulated the project around a pedestrianized square which connects the innovation poles and brings together the development’s “living” functions: hotel, restaurants, shops, conference centre, etc. This urban square becomes the point of reference for the various elements of the programme.
The project also takes advantage of the topography of the site which presents a height difference of almost 14 m between the site’s low and high points. Under the main square, the car park and utilities constitute a mineral base sunk into the ground to the south and largely open on the northern side. Resting on this massive foundation, the office block wings with their large glass panes form a dynamic and strikingly designed structure.
The architecture is pared back, playing on these two contrasting elements. The façades of the shared foundation are made of brick walls and strips of architectonic concrete whose vertical openings accentuate shadows in their depth. The smooth façades of the office wings present subtle variations in the glass panels running along them, overlaid with stainless steel sun shields.
“The success of a tool for innovation such as the CBTC will depend on regular interactions and encounters between the people working there. The role of the architect is to put in place the conditions for serendipity.”
Imagining a flexible and sustainable development
Given the scale of the project – almost 120,000 m² in total – we have implemented a clear hierarchy which distinguishes between two types of space: the generic, flexible work space, on the one hand, and iconic design elements which enhance the identity of the entire site on the other.
The work spaces are designed to adapt to changing needs, and require a fully integrated approach to construction and budget. The highly flexible work spaces available for lease range from a minimum unit of 20 m² to an entire floor. Thanks to the elongated volumes and the configuration of the premises, natural light is able to reach all the way to the central corridors. We have also made provisions for shared offices, in the spirit of imagining new types of work space.
Elements of eye-catching design lend a sense of identity to the complex. These are shared spaces. In this vein, a four-storey light well greets visitors in the entrance hall to the innovation poles. The hotel bar opens onto three levels alongside the lake. Conference and meeting rooms enjoy particularly generous dimensions.
Beyond the flexibility which is part of its DNA, the project seeks to set an example from an environmental perspective. This includes the use of high-performance technical equipment and solar panels, combined with excellent insulation and passive solar protection integrated into the architecture. Intelligent management of rainwater on site also constitutes a challenge. The objective is to prevent any rainwater from escaping into the sewage system, including in the event of a 100-year-flood. In this way, rainwater is entirely retained and disseminated on site. The areas approaching the site, the pathways, the communal square and lake all play their part in the story of how water is managed.
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