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Chocolate Factory

Nerem-Tongeren, Belgium
2014-2017
Umans Immo
a2o-architecten
12.244 m2 (70 living units, 2 office spaces and a commercial unit )

Awaiting development, the industrial icon temporarily acts as po-up bar, exhibition space, and a venue for cultural programmes and workshops for children.

Step by step, the site is brought back to life. This is the story of the Chocolate Factory and the people around it.

The vision of its temporary function is extended to the realisation of the residential project. Future inhabitants are involved in a participation process, both for their own lofts and for the communal spaces. They develop and express their ideas about the concrete details.

 

The former Rosmeulen Chocolate Factory in Nerem, near Tongeren, was established in 1909 by Mr. Florent Rosmeulen. A century ago, Belgian chocolate and gingerbread were produced here, immediately alongside the original railway between Tongeren and Liege.

There are currently two buildings on the site. A large factory building and a gatehouse. Both were built at the beginning of the 20th century and are listed historical buildings. The 165 m long beam-shaped building was one of the first buildings in Belgium to use reinforced concrete. The detailing of the building is characterised by beautiful Art Nouveau elements, such as the horseshoe-shaped window above the main entrance.

 

Today, there is no longer any production activity and the monumental building requires a new use. This will be a residential function, with a mixture of polyvalent lofts in the historically distinctive building, complemented by newly developed houses and apartments. This project is unique in the sense that it allows owners to determine the layout of their houses. The innovative concrete skeleton of the existing building is preserved in its current state. This makes it possible to arrange the houses according to individual wishes, both in layout and in height. The height of the ceilings in the lofts is more than 4.5 m.

 

By joining new and existing volumes, a large communal garden is created, to which all units have equal access. This allows the site to extend beyond its perimeters and links the garden to existing green spaces. At the side of the square, the site is opened up too.

This communal garden constitutes the primary source for a community spirit. Landscaping includes a variety of measures to promote this: a modular vegetable and herb garden, a communal garden table, a terrace, trees ,… The ground floor units all have private terraces, merging into the communal garden. The original workshop remains an open space for communal usage.

The gatehouse will get a commercial function, which will activate the site.

 

To preserve the structure of the existing building, circumambulation to the units on the first floor will be realised on the roof. A broad open-air passage provides access to the apartments through a glazed entrance. Because of its ample dimensions, the passage is more than a traditional access way to the apartments. It is also a meeting place.

In the tower, each floor has its own character. The ground floor and first floor are to become office spaces. Each of the other floors is to become a single residential unit.

 

To respect the existing building, it was decided to build the additions using austere, durable materials. The massive presence of red-brick architecture made it difficult to add contrasting materials to the site. Instead, the aim was to find a subtle, balanced addition to the heritage in the form of complementary brick architecture.

A transparent section will be added on top of the building, with a maximum of glazing in a steel frame.

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