Sustainably goals urges architect to build greenhouse around former fruit farm

Is it a greenhouse, is it an educational center, is it a former fruit farm? It is all in one. A former fruit farm in Gooik, Belgium, is now functioning as an educational center. As decided by the municipality of Gooik, visitors can now see the refurbished agricultural buildings enclosed within a greenhouse-like structure, this way learning more on the countrysite of Belgium. Architect Jo Taillieu: "We wanted a generous building that could provide the necessary comfort to all users of the center, even in bad weather, and provide an anchor point for exploring the Pajottenland.” 

Photo courtesy Jo Tailleu 

The old farmhouse had been used as an education center already for years, but the project became to big to be run by volunteers completely. That’s why the municipality bought it, and realized further expansion plans.

"Paddenbroek is by no means inconspicuous. In the hilly Pajottenland region, landscape, nature, heritage and culture have been closely interwoven for centuries. Maintaining that balance was one of the major goals," architect Jo Taillieu explains. "The farmstead and especially the outbuildings were in a bad state and unsuitable for achieving the intended objectives. The link with the context was almost non-existent. The first idea - a classic renovation - was discarded, as was a new building, because it was unrealistic and did not meet the task that could be expected of an educational and tourist center. We therefore opted for a roof that would cover the farmstead, the historic baking oven and the space around it."

Photo courtesy Jo Tailleu 

Sustainability was one of the main goals with the construction. The dilapidated outbuildings were dismantled and the farmstead and the baking oven incorporated, restored and insulated with moisture-regulating wood-wool cement boards and loam. Only these rooms and the offices can be heated. Thus, heating costs are sustainably limited to a few cores in the building and not everything needs to be air-conditioned. Inside the unheated greenhouse, therefore, there is an intermediate climate. Visitors are sheltered from rain and wind and can still enjoy the magnificent view of the surroundings. Upstairs are two more multi-purpose rooms that can be used as meeting rooms.

According to Stefan De Clerq, one of the business managers of the greenhouse construction company, the challenge was mostly the size and complexity of the project, as the features of this construction did not allow for a basic model. We created a unique truss and steel construction where each step was carefully monitored. All steel components were produced in our own workshops. This challenge was brought to a successful conclusion by the close cooperation between our draftsmen, our production team and the external architects. Our own typical aluminum profiles and glass, applied in the roof and wall, also contribute to the elegant appearance of this nevertheless quite robust realization."

The construction of a complex like that of Paddenbroek in a rural area is not obvious and initially met with the necessary reservations, as could be expected. The fact that the municipality was prepared to go along with the story of architect Jo Taillieu and project manager Dries Deleye therefore shows vision and insight. Now that the construction is complete, everyone agrees that Gooik has gained a valuable multipurpose center that responds to ecological sustainability and from which the residents can also derive maximum benefit.

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