Since the establishment of the centre in 1987, Omega offers day care to people with mental disabilities. In a long-term plan a trajectory was mapped out to expand the activities of the day care centre. In Wetteren Omega acquired a building plot in between the railway and the Gentsesteenweg, a typical Flemish town acces road. In a first phase the rowhouse on the ‘steenweg’ was extendend with several living groups, a multipurpose hall and an industrial kitchen. In a second phase a new workshop building was added, to replace the older temporary construction, and to house a music studio, a textile studio, a clay studio, a wood workshop, a sensory room. A third and last phase included the actual renovation of the initial rowhouse, for administration and staff.
In 2005 urbain architectencollectief won the competition for the design of a new workshop building, in association with architect Corneel Cannaerts. The extension of the first phase already meant a large occupation of the garden. This was a determining factor for the design. Through the introduction of a low and long volume and its smart one sided position against a blank wall of garages, the project chose to preserve a maximum of open space. At the same time, the studios were designed with a strong focus on the garden.
The floor plan has a simple structure: in front, a carport houses the busses of the day care centre – it is the space of arrival and departure of the guests of the centre, who are picked up in the morning and who are brought back home in the evening. In the juxtapostion of the workshops the guests are modelling clay, composing and playing music, assembling wooden furniture, painting, … The workshops are combined in pairs, with the insertion of a storage room, toilets and entrances in between. In the back, a small volume is cut of from the workshops by an open space. It houses the garden workshop. The open space is paved and functions as an outside workshop space, where wood is split and plants are potted.
The building is composed out of a prefabricated steel structure, enrobed with insulated wooden chipboard walls, and clad with wooden sidings. The rhythm of the steel porches defines the size of the different workshops. Inside the choice was made to show the structural logic: the corrugated steel roof, the wooden chipboard walls, concrete floors, steel columns and beams are left unfinished. High quality cupboards in birch multiplex and wooden windowframes offer a certain feeling of domesticity in return.
By designing the circulation as a covered gallery, the thermal boundary was shifted and the actualy built surface was reduced, all in favor of the budget. Besides its pure function as a distributor, the gallery is also a generous space in itself. Its comfortable width and light structure is inviting people to meet up, to stick around, to exhibit. ..
By opening the double fire escape doors, the workshops can be extended with a paved and covered outdoor space. This requirement out of fire regulations was turned into an important asset of the project. The design seeks an honest and pure detailling of basic materials. The structure of the gallery itself is made up of wood. The roof is made of transparent polycarbonate sheets. The rigid rhythm of wooden columns and beams offers a strong spatial dynamics. Different points of view offer various experiences: one view offers the perspective of a massive wooden wall through which people can suddenly slip out, another view offers glimps of the activities inside the workshops, with the gallery as a filter. The space of the gallery has in a short term earned a special place in the perception of the guests and the staff, as the building is referred to as ‘the gallery’.
Within this messy, banal, yet typical Flemish environment the new workshop building manages to introduce structure. It gives meaning to the place and starts up the dialogue with the previous extension.