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Topsportschool

A Sports Stronghold

Compagnie-O

Topsportschool
By Luca Maria Francesco Fabris -

Antwerp is a vibrant city whose history meshes seamlessly with its modern-day structure. For centuries a continental trading hub, it understandably took care to protect itself with solid perimeter walls, a fortress and barbicans surrounded by wide moats filled with water from the Scheldt. More recently, one of these outer defenses - formerly a barracks - was earmarked by the city fathers as the site for a top sports school, the project for which would be chosen by competition. The winner was Compagnie-O, an architecture practice from Ghent, defining itself as an “open design platform”, with all that implies in terms of experimenting with the spatial potential of places to allow architecture to give concrete form to concepts. In the case of the Topsportschool - the name of this specialist sports school inaugurated in fall 2016 - the fit between concept and realized project teeters on the brink. Yet, although some solutions might appear questionable when taken separately, together they produce a valid outcome where function and necessity do not have to make concessions to form and detail. The architects took very much to heart the school’s mission as a place for training young people whose primary interest is to become athletes in specific disciplines. Accordingly, the spatial design obeys a clear-cut military hierarchy, the sports environments speaking of rigorous discipline. While in most schools, the places dedicated to sports activities are spaces of “play”, pupil-friendly areas bathed in light, here, in contrast, competitive sports is the most important subject on the curriculum. The architecture conforms, underscoring the implacable discipline required to excel. The sports halls exude a sense of rigueur, sacrifice and sheer hard work. Encased in the concrete walls of building’s base, they resemble a fortress where young minds (and bodies) learn resistance forged by relentless training. In total contrast, the school proper...

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