Solvay Brussels School of Economics & Management
Beneath the roof, a world of rigour and inventiveness.
A vast and immaculate floating roof and patina green copper facades. These are the most striking features of the new home for the SBS EM, lending it a surprising air of lightness but also its meaning and its singularity. Inside, between the different floors, surprising walkways link the different functions without there being the least reason to explain them or define their role within the interaction of the whole. It is not only the rigour of knowledge but also its inventiveness that is expressed at Solvay. This dialectic peculiar to the School is reflected in this new building, under this vast floating “cap” that shapes the space and is both a unifying and a symbolic element.
Clarity and complexity
Structurally, the new building is complex, due in particular to the constraints linked to its environment. Having to combine, along avenue F. Roosevelt, a more formal side and, along avenue Jeanne, integration into a more residential built environment, the building is the result of a necessary synthesis between the referential, the practical and the contextual.
A “sober” or in any event non-ostentatious building, as it must be in keeping with an academic institution concerned with finance, the new home for the SBS EM makes extensive use of glass and concrete, as well as of copper leaf that covers a part of the exterior.
Inside, despite the complexity of the structure and the multiplicity of the activities, it is clarity that dominates. No need for invasive signage: the user immediately enters a vast public space, accessible to all, in which everybody can move freely, converse, and be approached.
Rain, sun… and light
At the forefront of the available technologies (cogeneration, rainwater recovery, ventilation, etc.), the building naturally respects environmental standards. Maximum energy efficiency was a clearly stated goal from the time of the initial project submitted for the competition in April 2002. The glazed facades use the latest glazing technologies, in terms not only of material but also in managing the dynamic of orientations and ventilation to harness the maximum of solar energy in winter and limit the inconveniences in summer. As to light management, this is at the very heart of the project. It is that which celebrates the volumes and highlights the walkways.
Two wings determine the building functions. The first houses the offices of teaching staff, researchers and administrative personnel. The wing situated on avenue Jeanne is used for the actual teaching, as is the large space in the central atrium where the principal auditoria are to be found. The atrium is designed for major gatherings and connects the two building entrances located on different floors.
Oxidised or pre-patinated copper in green turquoise, neutral tone glazing (U = 1.1w / m² k ; solar factor 40%) and roofing with white underface (metal panels) are the three major elements in the composition. The bricks with grey facing, the white columns and the grey metallic aluminium window-frames bring tradition, integration and innovation to the ULB site. The materials excel in terms of sustainability and possible recycling.
The overall insulation level is K33 (K55 when applying for the building permit).
The use of copper
The choice of copper as facade cladding for the new SBS EM is justified by the strong identity expressed by its colour and the specific nature of its application that generates a harmony of pattern and a very gently undulating texture that vibrates and evolves over time.
The Art & Build architects saw this as the essential choice in lending a visual unity to a building that brings together previously dispersed functions.
Each of the volumes is finished in green turquoise pre-patinated copper cladding that harmonises with a structural pattern dictated by the aluminium window-frames of the glazed facades (colour grey RAL 9007).
The copper was applied principally by means of factory pre-folded and pre-cut copper sheets with horizontal standing joints. Between the sheets, stapled vertical joints were applied according to a discreet design particular to each facade. The copper sheets are 42 cm in height to permit a placing that respects the pattern of the horizontal axes of the window-frames. The copper-covered window-sills and tops are in copper that is worked to provide continuity with the profiles of the standing cladding joints.
The copper provides a close framing for the bays, with a minimal acceptable gap of 10 mm between the copper and the aluminium. The finishing sheets for the window-frames were applied after the copper in order to cover the copper/aluminium joints to leave just an open hollow joint between the two materials.
On the main facade, the particular shape of the main amphitheatre with its curves dictated by the radii of the tangential circles is highlighted by the repetition of the horizontal curves of the standing joints. This copper pattern is in alternating correspondence with the sequences of the glazed aluminium facade. It is interrupted close to the aluminium by a U-shaped copper profile that is rectilinear and vertical, parallel to the finishing sheets of the aluminium facade.
To the north, the large plane surface of the stairwell curtain wall is punctuated by the repetition of the copper-clad overhangs of the truncated cylinders of the secondary auditoria. Each volume, with its curved horizontal lines formed by the standing joints and interrupted by the oblique planes of the roofs or stapled copper undersurfaces, has the effect of lending vitality to the facade, by virtue of the repetition of volumes and of the different copper applications.
To the south, the repetition of office window-frames is orchestrated by the standing joints of the copper cladding. On the bay peripheries, the vertical reveals, the underfaces and the window-sills applied according to the construction principles inherent to copper serve to calm the habitual rigour of the office facade.
The potential of copper applications has been used to a maximum both to generate dominant patterns with the standing joints when initially designing the facades and to create discreet and subtle secondary rhythms at the time of site application.
The need to attach scaffolding through a copper cladding implies visible piercings, for example. These piercings were made while respecting the pattern of the copper, beneath the standing joints, at the base of the vertical joints between the sheets. These piercings are capped with a square removable copper element measuring 2 x 2 cm, clipped and stuck into position beneath the standing joint, a detail that contributes to the discreet order of the facade vibrations.