AMAL AMJAHID community center opens its doors (BOGDAN & VAN BROECK)

BOGDAN & VAN BROECK designed a gallery of arches – the Giant Gallery – that connects the canal with the district behind it. A central courtyard spanning 3 floors – The Patio of the Powerhouses – brings natural light into the heart of the project. The terrace connects the different rooms, also makes it possible to expand them and facilitates social interaction between the users. Thanks to the hanging terraces – the Gardens for the little ones – the nursery has outdoor space. An ingenious structure encloses this diverse program; a prefabricated and highly insulating wooden frame covers it all.

The beginning – Sustainable neighborhood contract

The AMAL AMJAHID project offers a unique opportunity to create a better connection between the width of the canal and the Molenbeek neighborhoods behind it. The project completes a very rich urban fabric that includes numerous collective and educational spaces and is characterized by the juxtaposition of gardens and courtyards along the Kleine Zenne stream.

AMAL AMJAHID is the showcase of the action plan for sustainable neighborhood contracts “Around Leopold II” and is part of the development plan for Kanallandskab.
Soils are expensive, so their implementation requires care and accuracy. The amalgamation of different programs as proposed for the AMAL AMJAHID project is fully in line with this view.

Programmatic and structural cocktail

The building along the Canal will support the neighborhood with a large sports hall, a martial arts hall and a nursery for 84 children. This program is organized around three common areas: the Giants Gallery, the Patio of the Powerhouses and the Gardens for the Little Ones.

To facilitate access to the sports hall and allow its visibility from the street, this large volume is located on the lower levels of the building. The floors for martial arts and the nursery will be upstairs. This programmatic choice, which is more convincing for the structure of the building – the logic of the load-bearing capacity would rather drive the placement of this large, empty volume in the upper part of the building – allows natural light to penetrate into all rooms. The wall with the arches and its counterpart on the partition (on the side of the Ava Papierwaren) carry four large two-story metal trusses that house the kindergarten and also the caretaker’s house.

Huge gallery adorned by spacious arches

The Giant Gallery is a large reception area that stretches from the canal to the Werkhuizenstraat. It facilitates the various functions of the project. The giant gallery is highlighted by generous arches, real connections between the Canal Quay and the Kleine Zenne stream. These arches play a significant role from a structural point of view. They support the four large metal braces that make it possible to place the different functions one above the other.

These large rafters were transported to the wharf by water. The AMAL AMJAHID project thus confirms the importance of water in the city. The building not only connects the neighborhoods of Molenbeek and Kleine Zenne with the canal, but also uses the canal as a means of transport. The construction process and means of transport were taken into account from the start of the design.

Ubiquitous natural light

The Patio of the Powerhouses is the heart of the project. This outdoor space not only connects the different functions, but also makes it possible to increase the visitor capacity, daily or during an event. For example, on a competition day, the Patio provides the necessary space for the temporary increase in the number of users. It is an ‘outdoor space’ where the visitor can also sit and relax while watching the sports activities.

The terrace extends over three floors and brings natural light into the surrounding spaces. The boxing room and the multi-purpose room are located at the same level as the terrace; the nursery and caretaker’s residence are on the upper floors.

Hanging gardens for the little ones

The gardens for the little ones are the kindergarten’s outdoor areas. They come in different forms, depending on the facades they are attached to. Small children can play outside and participate in the activities on these terraces when the weather is good.

Smart shell – low technology

The project is an example of the ‘smart shell – low tech’ concept. It is passive, but does not depend on complex technology. Manual control is preferred over automation because the designers are convinced that users know best what they need. A highly insulated prefabricated timber frame encloses all volumes of the project; the night-cooling chimneys provide natural ventilation of the rooms in summer and utilize the thermal mass of the structure.

Building the city means working together

Week after week, the various elements are combined into a robust system that future users will make their own. The spaces are generous, determined by the structure of the project itself.

The AMAL AMJAHID project is the result of a participatory process. Its design has been repeatedly revised and adapted with the different actors: the government, the future users and the local residents. The residents of Molenbeek could vote on a name for the project. They chose the name of the young Amal Amjahid – a martial arts champion who represents Belgium and Molenbeek in several international tournaments.

“The development of the built environment is not a solitary creativity, but a social act, an act of cooperation between society, society, politics, economy and technical expertise, all with respect for the environment. AMAL AMJAHID Community Center there is a proof on that,” says Oana Bogdan, founding and managing partner BOGDAN & VAN BROECK.

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