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Between heritage and modernity in the heart of Leuven

Cera’s new headquarters incorporated two protected historical monuments which have now been completely restored: an eighteenth century mansion and a neo-Gothic construction called “Helleputte Building”, erected in 1913 to house the Volksbank van Leuven. We added a brand new corner building located along two pedestrian axes to mark the complex’s contemporary identity. The result of a fruitful collaboration with architects Robbrecht & Daem and Studio Roma, the new headquarters is a link between history and modernity, illustrating a high level of ambition whilst respecting the existing heritage.

The pattern of the bays and the facade material chosen for the extension (a luminous white-gray sandstone called “Comblanchien”) subtly reference neighbouring historic buildings. The complex’s contemporary identity, in perfect harmony with its historical roots, echoes the social function of Cera – contemporary and open, but rooted in heritage. In addition, Cera was keen to open its art collection to the public, and integrated into the exhibition space is one of two original vaults of the Volksbank, further celebrating the site’s history.

Reception area open to the public
Exhibition space

Bright spaces open to the city

In contrast with closed-off buildings of earlier centuries, the ground floor of the extension transparently welcomes the public and is mostly glazed. A strong relationship is created between the semi-public interior spaces, exposing the art collection, and the plants and green spaces of interior patios. We have created a scenic route between the different indoor and outdoor spaces that invites visitors and staff to wander in the spirit of a “city walk”.

The higher floors of the new building house offices for the 75 Cera employees based in their headquarters. The openwork stone offers them views from the offices onto the city centre. The roof is constructed from wooden slats covered with zinc, allowing light to enter through the trellises. In addition to the building’s underground car park, we have equipped the site with a bicycle shelter to encourage cycling as part of soft mobility, an integral part of the Leuven urban landscape.

Principles of sustainable restoration

We have worked to reduce energy consumption in various ways, focusing particularly on insulating the building envelope, combining passive and dynamic systems to manage solar protection, and maximising natural light. While each of the buildings required tailor-made technical solutions in view of the heritage context, we applied a general principle of sustainable energy supply via a heat pump with underground energy storage.

We have carefully integrated contemporary techniques into historic buildings, while respecting their original aesthetics. For example, fresh air circulation in the old living rooms happens via the natural stone fireplaces, through cast iron vents. For interior finishes, we chose to let the authenticity of contemporary materials show through. The combination of wood and exposed concrete offers a mix of warm and durable materials. The addition of absorbent floor and wall coverings ensures optimum interior acoustics, in line with contemporary standards.

“Cera’s social function is founded in linking its established heritage with its contemporary attitudes. In the same way, this complex perfectly blends heritage buildings with sensitive and modern restoration.”

Kris Loix architect, executive partner

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