Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

PRINSENPARK VISITOR CENTER

Studio Jan Vermeulen + Tom Thys Architecten

CATEGORY
Visitor Center

LOCATION
Retie, Belgium

PHOTOGRAPHS
Jeroen Verrecht

LEAD ARCHITECT
Jan Vermeulen

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER
Util Structuurstudies

USER
Provinciaal Domein Prinsenpark

LOT 1 MAIN BUILDING
Thys Bouwprojecten

SERVICES ENGINEERS
Tech3

MAIN CONTRACTOR
Thys Bouwwerken

EPB
Ems

CLIENT
Provincie Antwerpen

LOT 3 DEMOLITION EXISTING BUILDING
Sven Adams Afbraakwerken

LOT 2 IBA (WATER FILTER SYSTEM)
Bellaqua

MASTERPLAN AND ARCHITECTURE
Studio Jan Vermeulen I.c.w. Tom Thys Architecten

YEAR
2022

MANUFACTURERS
Aliplast, Isover, Knauf, Stobag, Ursa, Unilin, Villeroy & Boch, Aluform System, Cras Woodgroup, Edelbeton, European Larch, Omg Beton, Ronny Wens Schrijnwerkerij

Royal, sustainable, and wild. Studio Jan Vermeulen in collaboration with Tom Thys architects developed a master plan for the main entrance landscape infrastructure and designed a new visitor center that replaces the outdated existing buildings of Prinsenpark.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

Prinsenpark is a landscape park in the Kempen Nord of Antwerp.Originally set up in 1880 as the grounds for a royal estate that was never built, the park has developed into a unique reserve with a clear focus on providing access to nature and education.

As in a picturesque ensemble, the relation of the project with its surrounding landscape is multi-layered. An aspect that is reinforced by new pathways, clearances, channels, and rainwater retention areas that anchor the project in a natural way.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

The park nestles itself as a precise and defined figure in the landscape. An oval pathway circumnavigates the central forest with its formal structure of meandering paths and trails that provide access to the park.

Extension to these woods sometimes merges with the surrounding landscape, sometimes they provide contrast. This creates an intriguing bocage landscape around the oval forest in which open and closed vistas alternate.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

A picturesque ensemble. The new center brings together the parks’ administrative offices, its forestry depot and workshops, and visitor facilities in an ensemble of two buildings with pitched roofs.

In between the Kastelse Dike that cuts the landscape in a long straight line, and the edge of the oval woods, two volumes define an enclosed space that serves as a yard for the foresters.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

Large pitched roofs overhang to create an entrance, a covered outdoor space, or a protected work area.Reminiscent of the 18th-century experimental farmsteads that were developed in this area to cultivate this former peatland, the building's specific geometry generates a variety of silhouettes.

In 2021 the park has won an international Green Flag Award for its ‘sustainable vision, fine facilities, and its broad range of educational activities. 

Prinsenpark’s unique identity has been developed over 140 years and is defined by the strong combination of the original royal formal park structure and its wild flora.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

“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.”

Enfilade. The first building, the visitor center, comprises the visitor facilities, offices, canteen, and changing areas for the park’s staff. The second building contains depots and workshops for the foresters.

An allegory of the royal but wild landscape of Prinsenpark, the new project combines elements of the local building culture with the formal plan of a country house. The visitor center has been set up as an enfilade of rooms and halls under a large pitched roof that overhangs the oval woods.

A succession of large rooms and smaller in-between spaces allows for varied use in which different spaces can contain different activities.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

The roof structure with its untreated aluminum corrugated panels and exceptionally large V-shaped gutters provide the project with more refinement.

The rooms and halls are constructed with white concrete blocks and beams forming a robust and neutral background for the park’s activities.

A refined casco structure. The timber-clad buildings have a rural expression but precise detailing around windows, gutters, and gates transcends the utilitarian. The identity of the project is defined by the rhythm of lightly abraded Larch boards that wrap around the volumes as rain and windscreen.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

The large window and door openings connect the information desk, the reception area, and the education room with the offices, the staff canteen, and the central yard, and make the operational activities of Prinsenpark visible to the visitors.

Constructed within a low budget, the project is an intelligent and flexible structure where the building elements closer to the user get more detail and refinement.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

Timber-clad lightweight walls, custom-made doors and windows, and fixed furniture, stained in deep blue, green, and purple colors subtly contrast with the concrete blocks and bring hierarchy to the enfilade. The depot and workshops are combined in an L-shaped building that encloses the central yard.

A series of galvanized steel porticos define a flexible covered space for the storage of forestry equipment. A balanced ecosystem. In various ways, the project focuses on integrated sustainability.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht

The large roof overhang of the visitor center not only creates a social space for visitors but also serves as passive sun protection for the large spaces along its main facade.

The construction assembly methods of various building elements allow for easy disassembly, reuse, or recycling. In that respect, the building acts as a sustainable materials bank for the future.The visitor center also meets the passive house standard.

Water management is used as an educational element and connects the project and the landscape in a new ecosystem.The existing channels and ditches were adapted into wadis to create a water and infiltration landscape where new fauna and flora can flourish. As such the site’s biodiversity receives a new impulse.

Prinsenpark Visitor Center
© Jeroen Verrecht


Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Aerial View
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Detail


Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Plan - Ground Floor
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Site Plan


Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Section A
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Section B
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
Section C
Prinsenpark Visitor Center
South Elevation