Topsportschool in Antwerpen by Compagnie-O architecten

published in sb 1/2018

Learning and training

On the site of Fort VI in Wilrijk, Compagnie-O architecten have designed a highly advanced school complex for the secondary school of the Stedelijk Leonardo Lyceum with training facilities for top-level sport. In closely clustered school and training rooms, 182 elite pupils undergo their education and training in a secluded setting.

The close cooperation between the sports fed­erations and the school teaching staff ensures that top-level athletes can combine 12 hours of top-level sport with 20 hours of general education. Lessons are given in football, badminton, taekwondo, snowboard and basketball at the Topsportschool.

The Topsportschool is permeated with unexpected inner views, reflective surfaces and voyeuristic spaces. The building does not reveal its purpose, but merely exists on this awkward site, an abandoned military fortress, overgrown with greenery. A sloping concrete base emerges from the ground, self-contained and conspicuous, slightly more elevated than its surroundings but revealing hardly anything at all.

On top of this solid ground hovers a sharp-edged mirror glass surface, reflecting and fragmenting the scenery into scattered views. At first glance, the base and the glass house seem to be in paradoxical confrontation. In fact, the architects consider it an oxymoron in that it brings together two seemingly incompatible languages within a single building, creating an interesting tension.

Spatial core

The gyms form the spatial core of the school and are located on the ground floor. A large hall for multiple sports stands alongside a specific hall for the martial arts of judo and taekwondo. Between these two gyms, ancillary facilities such as changing rooms and showers are situated. In this zone the individual focuses on his/her performance, so the interior spaces are inward-looking. External influences are excluded or merely controlled and tempered. The walls are slightly inclined. There is no disturbance. At this level, on the side of the square, the main public entrance of the building is situated.

Communal living centre

Situated on the intermediate floor, the power training space and the canteen are placed next to each other. These spaces form the school community’s living centre. In contrast to the rather introverted training halls, this level has a generous view of the surroundings. The more private entrance of the school is located here. The top floor is reserved for all school activities, between the trusses. This level rises literally above the playing areas, the square and the wider surroundings. There is no more mass, just a platform, a hub or a store-house of knowledge and learning. A school with a circular path and a patio for central relaxation. The base of the school building is determined by the structure (trusses which span the large main hall) and ratios. In reality this place has more in common with a landscaped office or a company foyer than a pastel-coloured and child-friendly neighbourhood school.

Encouraged moss growth

The exterior walls of the base plinth are inclined. Apart from the evident military connotation, the building’s inclined surfaces set it apart. It responds to the slope of the terrain and includes in this way the topography of the area in the architecture.

The concrete surface of the base has been designed to encourage of the growth of moss. In this way, the designers wish to set the process of the greening in motion. The base will thus gain a green patina and embark on a process of (constant) metamorphosis.

The façade of the upper part, the school, has a perimeter of reflecting materials. With combinations of glass, the reflection becomes more saddle, more varied. Some parts are wholly reflective while other parts are partially reflective and allow a partial view through the façade. The mirrored image is not absolute, but layered and fragmented. The reflection is cultivated and manipulated, metaphorically speaking. Nature is projected as a virtual image onto the architecture.