The former Van der Elst cigar factory in Leuven has undergone a metamorphosis. Where the roar of machinery and the aroma of tobacco used to dominate, Jaspers- Eyers Architects has now created an urban oasis: a mix of residential units, offices, and shops around a succession of green outdoor areas.
“The site lies within walking distance of the centre of Leuven,” explains architect John Eyers as he describes the design. “The first question that we asked ourselves was: how can we create a function that will reintegrate this spot within the city? How do you turn an old factory into a pleasant living environment? The public passage through the complex plays a crucial role in this, as does the decision not to allow car parking above ground, and instead to construct a series of green courtyards and gardens; hence the name: 7even Tuinen, or ‘7Even Gardens’.” The factory complex dates from 1875 and has been expanded many times over the years. A number of buildings have been demolished in order to create space for the gardens. These gardens are constructed around the three renovated buildings and a new-build block. “That gives the interior area a certain vivacity,” explains Eyers. For that reason, the project combines a mix of functions: offices, other business premises, and apartments, ranging in size from fifty to two-hundred square metres, with strikingly high ceilings and an abundance of daylight entering the properties.
From an urban development perspective, Eyers was looking for a new dynamism while still trying to preserve the original character of the building. “We have left the existing column structure and the technical features as visible as possible with the intention of reinforcing the industrial look rather than eliminating it. After all, this is what distinguishes the building from new-build projects, and the reason why people specifically choose this spot.”
The CS 38-SL system by Reynaers was chosen in order to imitate the look of the original steel window frames. “This profile is very slender, at just forty millimetres thick, while still satisfying all modern requirements with regard to matters such as energy conservation,” explains Sophie Hayen, who as project leader from general contractor Kumpen, was responsible for the execution of the construction. The profile was specially improved and further developed for this project. The Reynaers system CS 77 was used for the new-build section, for the glass façade cladding of the rooftop units.
The combination of renovation, new-build, and the construction of an underground car park made 7even Gardens a complex project. Hayen explains: “We had to deal with an inner-city location, whereby the logistics relating to the delivery and removal of construction materials are by no means self-evident. In addition, in the case of renovation work you always encounter unexpected hitches, and you need to come up with solutions on the spot as they arise. For instance, we wrestled with the levels of the buildings. Once these had been measured in order to link them up with the new-build element, it became clear that there was still a little too much play between them. The project has seen a great many changes along the way. The biggest challenge was to resolve problems and implement changes as well and as efficiently as possible and to stick to the original time schedule. We are proud of the fact that we were successful. This also resulted in a high visual quality: the apartments have a very high level of finish, and the façade is a success.” “And then there’s the gardens,” Eyers reminds us. “There is an English-style square with benches and an eatery, and we have created attractive steel café terraces. It is an area with a very diverse character- a world in itself. What people want today is to be able to spend time outdoors in a pleasant enclosed environment. They don’t want the feeling of being out in the busy streets. This design is about feeling at home in the city.”
This profile is very slender while still satisfying all modern requirements with regard to matters such as energy conservation
Architect John Eyers was born in Leuven, Belgium in 1961. He studied architecture at the Faculty of Architecture, Sint-Lucas in Brussels. John Eyers and Jean- Michel Jaspers now jointly run the firm set up by Jaspers in 1960. With a team of 120 employees, the architects work on a wide range of assignments from three locations: Brussels, Leuven, and Hasselt. In recent years, the firm has become international, expanding into Eastern Europe, China, and Russia. ‘Designing communicative, people-friendly, and ecological architecture that focuses on community, context, and environment’ is John Eyers’ aim.
Sophie Hayen was born in 1983. She studied at KU Leuven university, graduating first in 2006 with a Master of Science in Engineering: Architecture and then in 2008 with a Master of Science in Engineering: Building Engineering. She started out as a project leader at Probam. Since 2011, she has worked as a construction project leader at Kumpen, the property development and contracting firm for infrastructural projects. ‘Every day at the building yard is a new challenge. My goal is to combine quality, good planning, safety, and client satisfaction to ensure a successful result.’
- Philippe Van Gelooven
- Yvan Glavie
- Willemen-Kumpen (General contractor)
- Archimedes NV (Engineering office)
- Vander Elst Vastgoed NV (Project developers)