Haren prison village EGM and B2Ai have been inaugurated

The prison village was realized through the implementation of the Master Plan ‘Imprisonment and detention under humane conditions’, an action plan to combat overcrowding in Belgian prisons and improve living conditions. The prison village will replace the very outdated prisons in Brussels (Sint-Gillis, Vorst and Berkendael).

The complex was realized through a DBFM procedure. The design is by EGM Architecten and B2Ai, the realization was in the hands of the consortium Cafasso NV, which consists of the leading partners Denys NV, FCC Construcción SA and Macquarie Group. VK architects+engineers, Smits van Burgst Security, ARA – Atelier Ruimtelijk Advies and Baljon landscape architects are also involved in the design. The works themselves started in autumn 2018 and were completed in September 2022. It was undeniably one of the largest construction sites in Belgium in recent years.

A prison village for a more humane approach to detention

The prison village was realized on a plot of 15 hectares and consists of several buildings: a detention center for men, a prison for men, a closed institution for women, an open institution for women, an observation institution, a psychiatric ward and medical center. and spacious workshops. The so-called “town hall” is centrally located, which opens onto a large, central courtyard. It includes various common functions, such as the reception and visitors’ complex, the sports hall, the front office and the court of execution of judgments. In addition, there is also the entrance building with the council chambers and an administration building outside the perimeter wall.

The various buildings form a village in itself, which creates a completely different experience from the classic star-shaped prisons (the “Ducpétiaux concept”). “The lack of bars on the windows and the choice of shades of color shades in the facade cladding and in the buildings themselves create a different perception of restraint. In common areas, there is a deliberate use of accent colors and wood, materials that have a positive influence on the mood of the users. The use of ​color in the cells is deliberately kept neutral,” it reads.

The designers have created what they say is an innovative ‘prison village’ with several smaller, cozy-looking buildings that differ in size, shape and materialization: “The variation in image and scale reflects the setup of an ordinary village. The design creatively deals with with the existing irregular contour and height differences of the construction site, creating a varied landscape and view. Natural greenery, a village scale and recognizable materials contribute to the humane conditions of the prison for both inmates and staff. in the notion of the prison wall. Without compromising the safety requirements and without wanting to deny the reality of a prison, humanizes the impact of options for oversight. The relief is thereby used to create transparency, coherence, and variety.”

The place can accommodate around 1,190 inmates. Smaller housing units (each approx. 30 people) must improve the quality of life, both for the detainees and for the staff. The tours (outdoor areas) are practically arranged with a relaxation zone and a green zone. The prison village also has a kitchen garden where some inmates can work.

The closed women’s facility is located within the secured perimeter and can accommodate 100 women in 3 housing units. One housing unit has 5 mother-child rooms and an indoor and outdoor playground. The open women’s facility is located outside the secured perimeter and can accommodate 60 women divided into 6 housing groups, where they are responsible for preparing the meals themselves, and live more independently than in the closed ward. Each housing unit has a terrace and the mother and child housing unit has a small garden.

All housing units open onto a central square or garden. There are entertainment facilities where people can leave the ward during the day, for example to go to work. There is a great focus on reintegration through social contact. For example, visitors will be able to visit a coffee house and an ironing workshop is offered.

Detention focuses primarily on accountability and reintegration of the arrested, whereby new positions are also introduced among the staff, such as security assistant and detention officer.

An energy-friendly and sustainable prison

Sustainability was paramount in the realization of the prison. A BEO field was built with 250 wells to a depth of approx. 90 meters. This BEO field is one of the largest in Belgium. It allows for cooling or heating with free energy from the ground. Electricity is produced via a cogeneration plant, and part of the hot water for the prison is produced with the residual heat that is released. About 140 solar panels were installed on the roof of the so-called “town hall”.

Of the total consumption of non-potable water (flushing toilets, green maintenance, etc.), 59% is recovered through the recovery of rainwater and 41% through the recovery and purification of greywater. During the environmental construction, water-permeable materials were used as far as possible and maximum seepage into the prison area via wadis was ensured.

The buildings’ insulation values ​​(89,000 m² facades and 50,000 m² floors) are more effective than the current regulations require. When the original planning application was submitted in 2013, the project achieved an average K-value of K18, while the legislation at the time required a maximum K-value of K40. So the project more than doubled what was prescribed. Now, almost 10 years later, the insulation quality of buildings is no longer expressed in K-values, but we see that the heat transfer coefficients (U-value) for the various building parts are still better than the current regulations.

Particular attention was paid to the acoustics with a focus on avoiding excessive noise. Specifically, it involves reducing noise propagation, knocking and impact sounds through the concrete construction and the search for vandal-resistant sound-absorbing finishes, design of specific rooms such as courtrooms and rooms with low stimulation and the more common living room-teaching work. spaces such as classrooms, workshops, lounges and cells. A further challenge for acoustic comfort was to avoid noise nuisance from aircraft (Brussels-Zaventem national airport is nearby).

Thanks to all these measures, the prison village received a BREEAM Very Good certification.

Arts integration

The DBFM assignment also provided for the integration of art in the prison. For this, a long-term art project was created. Artwork (murals, sculptures, paintings, etc.) created in collaboration with artists and inmates will be displayed both inside and outside the prison complex. This creates a “quasi-museum”, a permanent exhibition that will be open to the public from April 2023.

The part of the exhibition within the prison walls will of course only be accessible to inmates and prison staff, external parties can discover the exhibition at the participating partner organizations (art institutions, universities,…) and in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The exhibition will be continuously in motion and will be further expanded over a period of 3 years together with partners and detainees. This creates a fascinating collaboration and meeting between 2 completely different worlds: a prison and the artistic world.

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