Utopia – Library and Academy for Performing Arts, Aalst

Designed by: KAAN Architecten
For client: Autonoom Gemeentebedrijf Stadsontwikkeling Aalst (AGSA) Floor area: 8500.00 M² Year of completion: 2018
Submitted for: 年度市政空间

Public Score
5.56 Function
5.51 Innovation
5.56 Creativity

About the Project

The new building that houses the Municipal Library and Academy for Performing Arts has been slotted into the urban fabric to enhance the characteristic irregular streets and intimate spaces of the city center, and to interact with them.

The entrance to the building is located on an intimate square between the reading cafe and the auditorium. Moving through the wide hall, the open interior landscape of the building unfolds from floor to ceiling, and cantilevered into the space are several thick concrete floors that appear to float. Hanging at varying heights, each level features bookshelves and reading tables, while looking into the atrium and towards the brick façade of the pre-existing building. Moreover, a 11.5 meter high book case stretches towards the ceiling, filled with books donated by residents of Aalst.

The concrete structures seem to be supported by books. The staircase has a sculptural presence at the periphery of the magnificent atrium and reading room. The ceilings have been minimalized to the point of being almost undetectable. All the technical systems are concealed behind a expanded metal ceiling that softens the strong daylight and creates a pleasant atmosphere during the day.

Apart from the ground floor auditorium, the Academy for Performing Arts is housed on the first two floors, flanking the reading atrium. Utopia is the living room of the city, a new landmark in the everyday lives of the citizens of Aalst.

What’s unique about it

Utopia is a place where meeting is stimulated, on different scales. The building, the city and its residents are inextricably linked, and can gaze at each other through tall and wide openings, carefully sliced out of the brickwork. Within the new building, the ballet room, rehearsal studios and teaching spaces have windows as tall and wide as the rooms themselves, providing a view onto the city and a glimpse inwards from the city.

This is in line with the evolution of the traditional library to a place for meeting, relaxing and learning; both physically and digitally. In addition, the innovative idea of combining a library and an academy derives from this. The two functions complement each other and offer an added cultural value. The historic building provides good opportunities for this programmatic combination.

Both functions, however, require different needs. Reading in the library should not be disrupted by music lessons and play’s rehearsals. Suspended concrete floors replace the original wooden floors, doors are sound-proof, and double glazed windows capture each single piano note.

Old and new come together in the building. Both outside and inside, the historic façades blend perfectly with the generous spaces, while the brickwork dialogues with light gray concrete elements. In combination with the oak wood book cases and extensive daylight, this creates a warm and inviting atmosphere.

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