Architect in the spotlight: A2O

White Pearl on Hasselt Vismarkt

a2o Architects wanted symmetry with Saint Quentin Cathedral

For centuries, the Saint Quentin Cathedral has been a landmark in the Hasselt city centre. It was a great challenge to erect an appropriate building in the vicinity of this memorial. a2o Architects took on the challenge, and a plain white building was the inspired answer. The strong horizontal lines and the indoor terraces give the building an impressive dynamic, which supports its position next to the cathedral.

The Vismarkt in Hasselt city, a few meters from the Grote Markt and the shopping streets, is a car-free area. The area is especially known for the Saint Quentin Cathedral, which demands your attention. Recently, the Vismarkt obtained an added stunning eye-catcher. An impressive white building offers a direct architectural antipode to the cathedral. "The cathedral was paramount in our search for a suitable concept for this building. The premises forms the link between the Vismarkt and the Zuivelmarkt. Therefore, the building should attract attention, but at the same time the immense cathedral must be considered. Initially, we thought of finishing the walls in natural stone, in the same colour as the calcareous sandstone from the Maasland in which the cathedral was built. In the end, we have opted for light-coloured bricks”, explains Jonas Knapen, partner at A2o architects.

For the bricks the white Wasserstrich HF4 from Nelissen Bricks was chosen. "The 24cm long and 4cm high bricks allowed the creation of strong horizontal lines. To optimise this effect, the face bricks are laid using strike-through joints, thus resulting in over-sized joints and the ends of the bricks are laid without joints against each other. With the lines created, we brought in a subtle linear pattern into the  facade. This resulted in a striking building without its white colour distracting from the cathedral", continues Christian Lemmens.

All about the line
The indoor terraces are another image-creating feature in the residential complex. "Here too the brickwork has been consistently elaborated; not only in the facades, but also in the ceilings. That required the necessary creativity and the use of stone strips or the milling of bricks”, according to the designers.

The lineage was thought out in detail. For example, the thresholds and window sills were manufactured in the colour and thickness of the bricks to obtain a homogeneous image.

Dark woodwork on the floors, a bamboo entrance door to the business premises and a dark aluminium surface on the ground floor break-up the white image. The access door to the upper living areas and the carport, behind the aluminium level, leads to the car lift. The fully glazed circulation zone is situated against the adjacent building in the Zuivelmarkt. Both buildings are thus separated from each other. The double-height entrance of the commercial building is fully glazed. Because of the location of the entrance in the corner of the building, it attracts maximum attention from the passers-by.

New city district for Sint-Truiden

The original office of a2o Architects is in Hasselt but after 15 years of operation, the office is currently active in most parts of Flanders and Brussels. In order to properly service this geographical spread, the agency opened a second office in Brussels this year. "This will enable us to respond better to the opportunities offered by the capital city," says Jonas Knapen. “For example, we are already busy with the Hypodroom project in Laeken and a housing project in Anderlecht for the Brussels Regional Housing Company. a2o Architects also do more than mere architectural design. We are an interdisciplinary office with architects, interior designers, city planners and even a product designer. This allows us to address the most complex issues from the master plan to the smallest details”.

A good example of such an all-encompassing project is Gulden Bodem in Sint-Truiden, commissioned by Splendid. "We drafted a development of 200 houses within a 10-minute walk from the centre. This new development brings together a mixture of residential typologies including cluster homes, semi-detached houses and one-bedroom houses, "says Christian Lemmens. The first phase of 50 homes and 10 apartments is currently in progress. The houses are divided into 3 building blocks. "One block includes 30 semi-detached houses built back-to-back. The other houses are cluster homes. The variation in the number of floors avoids dull and long facades and creates a playful character”, said Christian Lemmens.

The outer facades are erected with Arte sintered N70/5. "a2o Architects asked for a brick that fits in well with the outer woodwork and has a certain accent. Our answer was the Arte sintered brick. The 24cm-long bricks are incorporated with thin-bed mortar in a random pattern”, concludes Jurgen Philtjens from Nelissen Bricks.