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Last week, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel proudly presented its newest architectural gems at the campus. To bring such an immense project to a favourable conclusion, you have to be able to depend on teams and people. You also have to work together intensely, with a lot of patience and often behind the scenes. Today, we draw attention to some of those colleagues. Which role did they play throughout the entire project, from the very first idea about the first stone to the end result of which we are very proud? Get to know the people behind the project.
From project management to financing
Nic Van Craen – General manager
All you can see today is the result of the ‘ASP1 plan’ from 2009, under rector Paul De Knop. Then, for the first time, we detected the need for new accommodation for our growing population of students. On top of that, the Willy Van Der Meeren student apartments had seen better days. When, in 2011, we decided to construct something new, extra class rooms and a beautiful council chamber also became an option.
Nancy Musschebroeck – Strategy and policy preparation
The question was: is it best to do this via public-private partnerships (PPS) or the traditional way? With a PPS, you don’t have a say in the architectural part. That’s why, in 2012, we organized an architecture competition. Regarding the Kultuurkaffee, the participating architects were given carte blanche. After a first round, the 8 best candidates were chosen and asked to submit a preliminary sketch. A process server was involved, so everything happened anonymously and with a code. I remember how we were screening the designs together in a classroom, and how we nicknamed each design, which was easier to work with than those codes. Isn’t it striking that at the time we nicknamed the winning design – in the beginning of 2013, we chose Conix RDBM Architects – ‘green boulevard’…?
Annick Faveere – Strategy and policy preparation
And look at how it turned out today! The design building complex almost literally opens up the campus, with the broad entrance avenue which leads to its green heart and which connects the VUB to Brussels and the neighbourhood. Amazing how they were able to turn a written note and programme of demands into a nice and fitting concept which perfectly suits our academic context.
Eddy Stroobants – Strategy and policy preparation
In 2013, we started to develop the entire financing course. The question was: for this building project by contract, do we want to contract a loan or issue bonds? In 2014, we chose the last option.
Helena Wittock – Strategy and policy preparation
The project cost the VUB 55 million euros. That’s quite a price tag, for which, regarding the cultural aspect, the Flemish government granted a subsidy of 500,000 euros from the Cultural Infrastructure Fund. [Continue story below the picture]
Experts in numbers and rules
Sonia Dewulf – Financial management
With a large building project like this one, we help draw up the specifications. We launch it, take care of the opening procedure of the incoming offers and support the evaluation and decision process. The purchasing procedure is an internal procedure that combines legal provisions with VUB policies and authorities. It regulates all purchases of deliveries, services and works by budget holders. We always strive for optimal spending of resources, equal treatment of all contractor candidates and the choice of the best offer on the basis of standard procedures and objective criteria. Among other things, we make sure that those products and services promote innovation, create employment and are environment- and climate-friendly.
Bernard Agneessens – Financial management
My modest contribution was to provide the necessary credit in RACS, so all invoices and orders could be processed correctly and in time. All moments of contact went smoothly and constructively; the meetings with Lieselotte Vaneeckhaute from Pilar about the funding, the contracts with Duvel Moortgat… The construction is being financed via a bond loan, which leads to specific entries, which I handled with the necessary attention.
Cindy Dieudonné – Financial management
Being one of the final links in the financial process, I had to register all purchases in our balance sheet correctly; the construction converted into numbers, to be deducted in the next couple of years. In the end, everything passes by the accounting section. Our campus now has a fresh look. The white buildings and their modern appearance are lovely. A considerable capacity extension and at the same time the beautiful combined action of functionality, aesthetics and sustainability. Hopefully, the VUB is now once again future-proof!
Lucrèce De Pauw – Legal department
My job was to offer legal support for this file from start to finish. That definitely takes a lot of work, but today, I can look back on a successful expansion. [Continue story below the picture]
From smart design to top technology.
Stijn Van Achter – Education innovation
Regarding education innovation, context is key, and in this project, the context is the physical learning environment. Rightly, we can be proud of the collaboration between AV services, IT, class room management and education innovation for the realization of class rooms for the 21st century. Almost all class situations supporting formal and informal learning can be realized in building I with the existing class rooms and equipment.
Micky Mattens – IT
All teleclassing appliances in building I are connected to the network. Audio and video signals are being transported via the data network. That means that each source – the screens, our digital projector, the cameras – is sent to a central point and from there, can be sent further to any other point. The advantage? If all seats in a class room are taken, the professor can teach there and immediately stream his lecture in the class room next to it. But to transport audio and video signals via the data network generated a lot of network traffic. To support that, we have properly upgraded our network backbone. Building I is also fully equipped with the latest new Wi-Fi technology.
Dries Peeters – AV services
When it comes to technology, we can definitely call it state of the art in Belgium, something the other universities will want to come and see. Our cameras film the lectures and work via audio tracking; the camera perfectly follows the student who asks a question and the teacher who answers Regarding software, it also ensures a smooth transition between fixed image and tracking. Our interactive touch screen whiteboards are also new. With those, you can create notes, save them and share them with your students indefinitely. As a teacher, you can also project using two laptops at the same time.
Hans Vandewijngaerden - AV Services
In the beginning, all this news may have given teachers cold feet, but once they have discovered all functionalities, they will not want anthing else anymore.Technologically, we took a big step forward, and that’s why AV Services now makes tutorial videos to support our teachers. From the beginning of this academic year until half of November, we also receive the help of students. From the second semester, they will also support our new teachers.
Erwin Van de Velde – Central Rostering (Not on the picture)
The class rooms? Regarding rostering, it is a breath of fresh air that 14 class rooms were added. Comfortable, open, bright auditoriums with extra diagonal screens, so students in the back can still read all notes and projections. There is also great ventilation on the basis of C02 detection. Our teachers and students appreciate it!
Serge Gilen – Infrastructure
The rest of the building also fits that picture. An open, bright, modern hall that invites you to get together and meet each other. It is simply comfortable to go to class that way and get informed via the different information screens about all activities at and around the campus. The building management system includes a lot of intelligence features, so it can function as autonomously as possible for the benefit of its different kinds of users. [Continue story below the picture]
Technological fireworks in a comfortable environment
Francis Lievens – Infrastructure
As technical staff, we have definitely made a big effort to use state-of-the-art techniques regarding lighting. Daily follow-ups with a building management system are now at hand on the basis of a proper as-built file.
Ronny Janssens – Infrastructure
Because of a revision of the original file, all those buildings have LED lighting with motion and daylight sensors, an example of a conscious sustainable choice.
Dirk Brichau – Infrastructure
Regarding Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC), the VUB chose ventilation on the basis of heat recuperation. The coordination of all of this is not easy and rather complex, and it takes intense effort from the XYI team.
Theo Nevens – Infrastructure
The entire project is completely integrated with the rest of the campus. For the central heating, we extended the tunnel network to XY. Pretty impressive to walk through it. We are constantly finetuning it.
Guido Vertriest – Infrastructure
The environment and plants are just as important as the buildings. They provide connection and offer opportunities for FabLabs on campus. Together with the VUB research groups and Rebecca Lefevere, who is responsible for sustainability, we created a project to help support the campus as an eco-system via “edible” trees, wadis and a green roof. How can we use water circularly? Space has opened up to study fauna and flora. The campus stays a green lung in the city surrounding it. The green buffer will definitely help provide a better acoustic climate against the busy city traffic. Planting will take place in November.
Francis Geldof – Infrastructure
I was able to take over the project from Linda De Backer, my director at the moment. We have worked together with the many people involved in such a big project. During extensive consultation, we have learnt a lot about setting up an information flow and communication for teamwork in such a big and complex project. It is a challenge to link those up with each other perfectly.
Ludo Lemmens – Infrastructure
I have followed the entire flow from concept to conclusion. One part of that is the 2% regulation regarding new buildings; to spend that 2% on art. We have given 3 artists the opportunity to realize their project here on our campus. You can admire Johan Tahon’s five metres high bronze ‘Eros/Eroos’ at the central square. Mark Cloet made ‘Mia casa’ – my house, hermetic atelier, open space. It is a bronze sculpture group behind building I, consisting of five elements: a worktable, a platform, copying table, chest and the spectator. The neons ‘Feel Fine’ on the left and right side of Bar Pilar are made by Liliane Vertessen. [Continue story below the picture]
Prevention and well-being
Christel Van den Bossche – Prevention and Environment
During the different steps of this project, they regularly asked for our advice, for example regarding fire safety and evacuation, from the design phase to the practical execution.
Heidi Geudens – Prevention and Environment
As prevention adviser , I think it is important to watch over all aspects of security and well-being. [Continue story below the picture]
The users: from student housing to culture
The X building complex offers 650 new student apartments and several services for students, like the services of housing, student funding and student jobs.
Ludo Reuter – Student housing
With a smile, I look back on our old student apartments. Recently, an ex-student asked me if he could propose to his girlfriend in his former room at Schoofslaan, where they ‘experienced beautiful moments’. He blindfolded his girlfriend and brought her to his student apartment. Then the blindfold was taken off, he proposed and she said ‘yes’! The stories in the new student apartments have yet to be written, but the students’ move from the Willy Van Der Meeren student apartments to the new building was fascinating. During a couple of weeks, I saw a train of shopping trolleys, completely stuffed. In the old student apartments, there was plenty of room in the common areas and they were trying to push all of that into the new apartments. [Continue story below the picture]
Four and a half years ago, our legendary Kultuurkaffee was broken down. Now, the pillar-shaped Y building is the operating base of Pilar, more beautiful and larger than ever before, with exhibition rooms, a bar and a concert hall.
Lieselotte Vaneeckhaute – Coordinator PILAR
New is the PILAR Box with 300 standing places and an electric, extending stand with 90 seats. This flexible hall makes it possible for us to plan concerts, theatre shows as well as debates. Next to that, there is also the PILAR Expo with 2 separate floors. Among other things, Pilar wants to be a presentation platform for upcoming artists. The new cultural hotspot in Brussels is definitely worth a visit.
Gijs Leven – Staff member Public relations PILAR
In the project Barak Lili M at Usquare, we offer young people space and support to create artistically and undertake things in the cultural field. We focus on young people who are very creative, but who need some support – that extra boost.
Maarten Vanermen – Programme responsible Visual Arts PILAR
My fingers are itching to work together with upcoming artists in the new exhibition spaces.
Carolien – Staff member Audiovisual Techniques PILAR (not on the picture)
From a naked frame to a completely furnished Pilar hall with modern technology, fitted to today’s needs. We should be proud.
Niklaas Van den Abeele – Staff member Production PILAR
After all those years of service at KultuurKaffee, I had to get used to the name change in the beginning. But now everything has fallen into place, everything looks perfect.
Jade Corbey – Programme responsible Music / Communication PILAR
After a nomadic period of four and a half years in many different halls and at the most unexpected places in Brussels, we are ready to work out a challenging, multidisciplinary programme on campus, after all the experience, contacts and knowledge we gained.
Isabelle Selleslag – Strategy & Policy preparation
As a student and member of the Student council, I was part of the advice commission for the architecture competition at the time. After all, students are the users of the infrastructure! As policy staff member of Campus facilities, the project came to me a second time. This time to support the users; the decision about the managers of Bar Pilar, the interior of the concert hall, the distribution of the rooms for the student associations, the announcement of the long-expected occupation of the new student apartments. All of those were small milestones. It was wonderful to see IXY grow from a small seed to the biggest campus expansion ever, and to witness the growth of Pilar and the cooperation between all VUB services. Through it all, I probably also grew as a person!
I am very curious about how IXY will continue to grow. How will students, staff, local residents and all other users experience the buildings and their environment? How will this place really start to come alive? I am already looking forward to the summer days on the grass of the ‘green boulevard’, a beer on the terrace of Bar Pilar… with a touch of melancholy, because I am too old now to rent a student apartment. [Continue story below the picture]
After years of planning and constructing, IXY is the biggest expansion of the VUB campus since 1969. It’s hard to miss: 33,100 m2 of striking new building complex:
50 years after our first Willy Van Der Meeren student apartments, student accommodation complex XY offers extra rooms for our growing student population. Flexibility and interactivity in 21st century education? From now on, during their lectures in building I, students and teachers can enjoy top technology. Plenty of culture and relaxation can be found at culture tower PILAR.
Thursday, 17 October, the moment was finally there. Lots of colleagues gathered before PILAR’s entrance to attend the festive opening ceremony together with the teams who had worked towards this moment for years. Clearly, it was celebrated with justifiable pride.
Take a look at our Flickr album from the opening event.