New home for engineers also functions as lab

Date: 2 June 2016

Introduction: Flemish Minister-President Bourgeois opens new, highly sustainable building at UAntwerp.

A BTES field, concrete core activation, a hydraulic pipe network: the brand new Building Z on UAntwerp’s Campus Groenenborger is a model of sustainability – a very good thing for the environment and the budget, of course, but also for students and researchers in the Faculty of Applied Engineering. Their new infrastructure is at once also a fascinating research object. The new building was opened on Thursday in the presence of Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois, Governor Cathy Berx and Mayor Bart De Wever.

The Faculty of Applied Engineering has been part of the University of Antwerp since 2013. The four study programmes are currently taught at the Paardenmarkt and Hoboken campuses, but students of Electromechanics, Chemistry, Electronics-ICT and Construction will attend classes at Campus Groenenborger as of academic year 2016-2017.

In the last two years, an entirely new building, designed by DMT architects, has taken shape on this campus. Jan Meersman and Kwinten Crauwels focussed on the functionality and rationality of the building. "The complex includes building workshops, a diverse range of labs, garages with heavy machinery, computer labs and offices. What makes it so special is that the students have been following the design and building process from close up, and the professors were also closely involved."

There are many special features in and around the new building, a real landmark in the south of Antwerp. For example, five striking bicycle racks have been constructed on the Groenenborgerlaan side. These concrete "mushrooms” are 100 m2 in size and self-supporting. The building itself has a spacious entrance hall, with a monumental staircase that can also serve as seating for concerts. Just as in the other University of Antwerp buildings, art is a key feature: Building Z is home to works by Philippe Van Snick and Nick Ervinck.

Numerous highlights
But perhaps it is the numerous innovative techniques which make the building a marvel of sustainability, and which will attract the most attention. "As a university we want to be an example in this area”, says Bart Heijnen, chair of the University of Antwerp’s Board of Administration. “We specifically opted for a passive construction that has extensive insulation and wind proofing, packed with innovative materials and technological feats."

The list of these features would be endless, but the concrete core activation is definitely worth a mention.  "These are pipes in the concrete floors which water flows through," Heijnen explains.  “They ensure that the eight computer labs remain cool. Here, the cold from the ground is used, without any other form of energy."

And while this system cools the labs, it also extracts heat from the rooms. This extracted heat is then used elsewhere in the building. The heat can also be released into the external environment or stored in the ground by Building Z’s BTES field. BTES stands for borehole thermal energy storage and consists in a series of pipes that are buried up to one hundred metres deep in the ground. These pipes contain a particular fluid that dissipates excess heat from the buildings during the summer and stores it in the ground. In winter, this heat is used as a source for heat pumps.

In addition, Building Z is equipped with multiple sensors that take regular measurements of, for example, temperature, energy flows and air quality. One of the outcomes of this system is that the windows open automatically to dissipate excess heat in the summer, taking the weather forecast for the next day into account.

One big lab
All the technological highlights of this building are a good thing for the environment and for the energy bill, but at the same time they represent a great big research lab for students and researchers on the Electromechanics and Construction programmes. "The labs are connected to the technical installations," says Walter Sevenhans, dean of the faculty. "This is obviously very useful for scientific experiments. The techniques used in the building are easily visible, and therefore ideal for demonstrating the course content – which often focuses on energy and sustainability – on the spot."

The new infrastructure was inaugurated on Thursday 2 June. The event was attended by Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois, Antwerp’s Governor Cathy Berx, Mayor Bart De Wever and Rector Alain Verschoren. The Flemish government and the Province of Antwerp contributed to the university’s investment in this new home for the engineers.

Building Z in numbers

  • Costs: 20 million euros, including fees
  • 8897 m² total area
  • 3750 m² of labs
  • 1709 m² classrooms and computer labs
  • 702 m² offices
  • 50% less power consumption because of LED lighting
  • More than 80% of the heat from ventilation air ducts is recovered
  • 1400 m² triple glazing
  • 762 m² outdoor blinds
  • 240 movable tilting windows
  • Two condensing boilers with a combined power of 240 kW
  • 2 heat pumps with a combined capacity of 70 kW
  • Spans of up to 15 metres long
  • 8 BTES pipe bundles 100 meters deep