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Modernist University Campus gets a new lease of Life, Liege/BE

Closed in 2006, the Val-Benoît University Campus in the Belgian city of Liège is to be given a new purpose as a mixeduse inner-city district. In an initial step, the former Institute of Construction Engineering was renovated and re-opened at the end of September as a flexible business centre available for letting.

Project: Institut du Génie Civil (Institute of Construction Engineering)
Client: SPI
Val-Benoît master plan: Baumans-Deffet
Original construction: Joseph Moutschen, 1937
Conversion: Momentary association Baumans-Deffet, Dirix/BE
Architects: Baumans-Deffet
Structural planning: BEL
Sustainability: Matriciel
Landscape architect: Du Paysage
Main contractor: Galère s.a., Groven+Portal, Gaspard, Vorsselmans
Construction phase: 2013 – 2016
Total area of Institute of Construction Engineering: 12.000 m2
Schüco Systems: FW 50+.SI, AWS 75 BS.SI+, AWS 75 WF.SI+,
AvanTec SimplySmart fittings
and CTB sun shading system

Up until its closure around ten years ago, the Val-Benoît Campus with its 1930s functionalist style had been an important site of the University of Liège for around 70 years. In addition to the Institutes of Metallurgy and Civil Engineering, designed at the time by Albert Puters and Joseph Moutschen, as well as the universityʹs own power station, other buildings for the specialist areas of mechanics and mathematics were also added up until the 1960s. After the closure of the site and the relocation of the institutes to the Sart-Tilman University Campus situated further south, the aim is for the ten hectare area situated to the south-west of the city centre on the banks of the River Meuse near the new Calatrava Liège-Guillemins railway station to be transformed into a mixed-use inner-city district over the coming years. As well as 33,000 square metres of usable space for offices, education and culture, 30,000 square metres are to be designated as living space for students.

The two huge internal walls were removed and replaced with lightweight walls as part of the conversion.

Furthermore, convenience stores, crèches, restaurants, meeting rooms, storage areas, green spaces and recreational areas are to be created. Based on the master plan presented in 2012 by the Baumans-Deffet association, a first step initially involved the Institute of Construction Engineering – constructed predominantly in four storeys – being given a new purpose. The building was erectedin 1937 with a reinforced concrete skeleton construction covered by a steel/glass curtain wall in large parts. Following its respectful restoration and adaptation, flexible units totalling 12,000 square metres were integrated into the building and made available to let as laboratories, assembly workshops or co-working spaces. To allow enough natural light into the offices situated towards the centre of the building and to ensure optimised access to the building, the existing central courtyard construction was dismantled and replaced by a leafy inner courtyard with a footbridge. Special solutions were required for the façade. Individually adapted façade and window systems from Schüco were used to maintain the original look of the building as far as possible, whilst also significantly improving the thermal insulation in the area of the glass façade. A conscious decision was made in this regard that the façade units, which were originally situated further inwards between the reinforced concrete supports, should be moved further towards the outside.

The open structure of the building allows maximum flexibility for a wide range of uses.

This not only removed the thermal bridging present in the area of the reinforced concrete supports, but also created additional room for integrating the new Venetian blinds. After completion of the Institute of Civil Engineering, the aim is to convert the Institute of Metallurgy into student housing as another component of the site from 2017. Cultural functions are planned for the former heating and power station and the former Institute of Mechanics is to become a training centre. Additional student accommodation will round off the site. When all these aspects are brought together, this will create a multi-purpose area in the immediate vicinity of the city centre by the year 2020.

Words: Robert Uhde
Photos: SPI, Maud Faivre

The newly integrated lightweight walls enable different floor plans.