Embassy of Belgium | Delegation of fLanders
New Pretoria Vlaams Huis
Alterations, Guard House, and Interior design for the Flemish Delegation of the Embassy of Belgium in Pretoria.
An unassuming house with a façade previously cluttered by air-conditioning units, small unpractical interior spaces and a dilapidated timber guard house has been transformed into a showcase of Flemish and South African design sensibilities, thereby establishing Flanders in the heart of one of the world’s diplomatic hubs.
The scope of the project was threefold: alterations to the layout of the building, interior design and procurement and a new guard house.
A new guard house creates a sense of arrival and establishes the identity of the Delegation of Flanders. The guard house, its form inspired by Flemish countryside barns, is a new landmark in the residential neighbourhood. The roof is a prominent light box which projects beyond the limits of the boundary wall. The dark face brick and galvanised clad base, juxtaposed with bright yellow accents, is in line with the colours of Flanders. Bricks have been laid in Flemish bond (verband), a bond that is synonymous with many of South Africa’s historic buildings. On a metaphorical level, the bond or verband represents the close relationship between Flanders and South Africa.
Architecturally, the intent of the alterations to the Pretoria Vlaams Huis was to open views to the garden, make better use of the existing floor area and enhance the experience of both staff and visitors.
Staying within the existing footprint of the building, the interior spaces were opened up to create larger and better functioning spaces. The entrance was reconfigured, combining two small previously unused spaces into one large entrance foyer and waiting area with views of the garden and swimming pool. The staff room, kitchen and library were also enlarged by incorporating unpractical circulation spaces.
Circulation issues throughout the building were addressed. A key consideration in the design was the accommodation of persons with disabilities. Ablution facilities were reconfigured with this in mind and access to the building was addressed.
Externally, the façade was simplified to establish a more contemporary feel. Existing services were grouped and hidden behind charcoal louvres that blend into the dark band painted above the windows. Slim, yellow benches and a sleek potted garden, complement the look.
The interior design approach promotes and supports the vision of the Delegation of Flanders while establishing a striking space that serves both employees and visitors.
The interior is a showcase of Flemish and South African design. Flemish designers are celebrated throughout with exterior pots from Kortijk, Maarten Van Severen’s iconic Vitra chair, and wallpaper designed by Sarah Corynen for Robin Sprong, printed in the Flemish colour specifications. Two sculptures by William Sweetlove are a focal point in the reception.
The majority of the bespoke pieces, such as the reception desk, library display unit, lectern and signage were designed in house by Mathews and Associates Architects. RAW Modular designed the office furniture and signature lamps were sourced from Wiid Design. Small businesses and local social initiatives were also supported: The bright yellow crochet seats were hand made from recycled t-shirt yarn by Emmah Masemola Community Project. Bespoke pottery by Kruger Creations, complemented by the HDC’s interior planting palette, adds an individual touch to the interior.
The entrance foyer boasts a poem commissioned specifically for the Delegation of Flanders in Pretoria. The poem, by Charlotte van den Broeck, celebrates the relationship between Flanders and Africa and looks to both new and historic insights. It introduces a different type of ‘texture’ to the interior and is a prominent conversation piece, as was the intention of Dr. Reymenants, the General Representative of Flanders. Artworks, on loan from the M KHA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp), will complete the interior design.
The intent was to create a simple yet striking and functional space at minimum cost. All three projects were completed successfully and within budget. The new Pretoria Vlaams Huis will certainly strengthen ties between South Africa and Flanders.