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The city council of the Flemish city of Aalst has commissioned KAAN Architecten to design their new library, a largely new complex in the city centre which will also house the Academy for Performing Arts. The complex, situated on the corner of Oude Graanmarkt and Esplanadestraat, will be completed in 2021 – a full century after the end of World War I.
The city requested: “A library for Aalst that will become an open and accessible place, a home for information, knowledge, culture and leisure opportunities.” Other, no less important stipulations included that the design by KAAN would be an impetus for the fulfilment of a vibrant city centre and a place where all of the different communities within Aalst can meet each other.
The preliminary design, which won KAAN Architecten the commission, is a complex with lively, urban allure. Precisely because its plan is functionally driven, it achieves a sense of spatial freedom that enriches the experience of the building. The so-called Pupillenschool, with its grand presence and eventful history, is being used as a ‘cornerstone’ to anchor the new complex in the surrounding urban fabric and in the hearts of the people of Aalst.
The irregular street pattern of the historic centre of Aalst was a source of inspiration and forms the foundation for the new complex. At various points the streets converge erratically, leaving small open spaces – tiny public squares that dot the old city centre. By inserting a rectangular edifice loosely against the back and part of the side of the Pupillenschool, Aalst has gained two more of such small public squares: one serving as the entrance area for the complex and the other as terrace to the reading café.
The combination of a library and arts academy may not at first seem very logical. The performing arts involve movement and noise, while reading is a static and quiet activity. The blending of the two, however, is also infectious and gives greater impact to the idea of a meeting place. KAAN Architecten believes the combination sets them a challenge to design a building that lets each complement the other in an ideal way. Aalst dances, plays and reads – a motto that speaks to the imagination.
The city has chosen to perform a public private partnership (ppp) for the municipal library by means of a Design & Build contract. This DB has been procured as one single entity to the private party of Groep Van Roey NV. Subsequently, Van Roey has configured a consortium for this very purpose of which KAAN Architecten is a member, next to ABT, Studiebureau R. Boydens NV, Util Structuurstudies and Dutch Light Pro.