Thor Science Park Genk-Waterschei
newly built incubator & laboratories
The successive closures of the coal mines in Zwartberg (1966), Waterschei (1987) and Winterslag (1988) represented a serious economic and social blow to Genk. The city and the region faced the challenge of creating thousands of new jobs and redefining the urban fabric. Once more, with the closure of the Ford factory, the city has to find sustainable alternatives for the outdated, outsized industrial economy. The city is redesigning the Waterschei mining site, to the north of the centre, as an industrial estate and science park for the knowledge industry. POLO Architects won the contest for the design of an ‘energy incubator’ on Cluster 1, a service centre for start-ups and spin-offs devoted to innovation and research.
RELATION TO THE OLD MINING BUILDING
The design is the result of a quest for the perfect positioning and orientation of the building across from the old mining building. Two cut-outs in the contours of the building volume provide remarkable perspectives on the heritage site. A first cut-out in the south-western corner of the volume creates a covered forecourt. It marks the monumental gateway to the building. The visitor enters the incubator with the impressive mining building as a backdrop.
The second cut-out forms a semi-public and permeable ‘work yard’, a collective and informal meeting space. The yard is above a two-storey car park partly embedded underground. From the elevated ground level, there are controlled views onto the mining building. In the next phase, the second volume is also plugged into the work yard.
SMART GENERIC PLAN
Since the occupants of the incubator were unknown during the design process, the offices and research labs have been structured as flexibly as possible. Depending on the changing needs of the start-ups, they can take on various configurations and sizes. The ‘smart generic plan’ groups the spaces for sanitary facilities, storage, and technical rooms into a long strip in the heart of the building. The circulation routes are situated peripherally along the north facade and overlook the work yard.
To ensure a pleasant work atmosphere, the office spaces are primarily situated along the south side of the building. The horizontal concrete blinds on the outside of the building filter the light and protect against the sun. The facades to the east and west are more closed, with rhythmically staggered window openings that frame views overlooking the post-industrial landscape.
photography: Yannick Milpas
Thor Park (former mining site), Genk-Waterschei
winning competition design