Approaching a city via rail is usually unspectacular and disappointing: the railway tracks lead along industrial yards stacked high with refuse containers or peeling paint. A refreshingly different welcome awaits rail travelers visiting the Belgian city of Leuven traveling in from Liège: half a mile from the central station, visitors pass by 5 modern office complexes clad in bright natural stone in yellow, black, green, white and last but not least, red.
The sequence of colors was chosen explicitly to achieve diversity and vibrancy much like brightly painted house fronts. Only the red color has a more profound meaning. It is the first building from the central station and houses the municipal government and offices.
Insiders understand the color as a metaphor alluding to the Partie Socialiste which has been governing the city for the past years.
The 5 office complex buildings belong to Bank KBC which solicited Crepain binst Architecture in cooperation with Archi+I to lend a new lease on life to the dilapidated and rundown property between the main station and the municipal town hall of Vlaams-Brabant Province.
The implementation of natural stone was the express wish of the landlord. The architects suggested using sandstone but KBC Bank wanted granite. But the architects insisted on non-polished surface finishes finally realized in a variety of surface treatments: water jet, sandblasted, brushed, flamed and bush hammered.
Stone types used were Yellow Gold, Cristal Black, Olive Green, Snow White and last but not least, Imperial Red.
Another distinguishing factor of this impressive complex is the construction of the ground floors: this is where the bank’s customer center is located with glass fronts and an inviting ambiance extending along the entire complex like a ribbon. This is an unusual design concept as it the base of the building which is traditionally clad in stone.
In combination with the surrounding park area the architects wanted to create a promenade bridging the central station and the outer districts.
Beneath the building complex three parking levels were constructed to ensure sufficient space for automobiles. The area is partly accessible to the public and partly reserved for employees working within the complex. Parking area for some 5,000 bicycles was also provided. One of the design challenges was keeping the flow of traffic separate.
Photos: Crepain binst Architecture