Set in the Kempen Nord of Antwerp, Belgium, Prinsenpark is an estate originally intended for royalty. Never previously developed, the grounds are now the focus of a master plan to provide access for visitors and a reserve for animals. Studio Jan Vermeulen in collaboration with Tom Thys Architects designed the new park buildings to replace old buildings on the site.
In 2021, the park won an international Green Flag Award for its “sustainable vision, fine facilities and its broad range of educational activities.” Furthermore, the park offers meandering paths and trails within a forested area. This provides visitors a connection with nature, including a landscape of plants and attention to animal habitat.
On the other hand, the visitor’s center, administrative offices and forestry support building are covered in pitched roofs with deep overhangs for passive temperature control and the provision of gathering spaces. The inside space is multi-functional to serve the needs of workers and the community. White concrete walls throughout speak to the blank slate of the streamlined interior design.
Additionally, woven between the natural and the built spaces is a rainwater harvesting system. This is used for irrigation and an attention to natural movement between spaces.
“The timber-clad buildings have a rural expression, but precise detailing around windows, gutters and gates transcend the utilitarian. Large, pitched roofs overhang to create an entrance, a covered outdoor space or a protected work area,” according to the designers.
The architects put an emphasis on sustainable design with materials intended to be disassembled, reused or recycled as the need arises in the future. Several other features in the visitor center combined to qualify for the passive house qualification. Surrounding the buildings, rainwater collection naturally feeds a diverse landscape of plants through a wadi system.
Beyond the green design, the site also caters to native animal species with the incorporation of several bat houses. According to the designers, “The building contributes to the values and vision of Prinsenpark as an area where nature, culture and recreation are interwoven into a special and balanced ecosystem.”
Photography by Jeroen Verrecht