Visitors centre Bergen op Zoom War Cemeteries

Bergen op Zoom

Nearly 2,500 soldiers who died during the Second World War are buried on the two cemeteries on the Ruytershoveweg in Bergen op Zoom. In order to provide more information about these fields, there is a need for the construction of a visitor center. At this moment, The two field are currently separated by a pine forest and a beech avenue (the "beech cathedral"). These trees, emerging from the golden forest floor, form a poetic connection in themselves between the two fields, which shimmer through the green on either side. These elements that make this location very beautiful are also very suitable for building. This applies to both the sandy soil that can be used to produce stony materials and the trees, which can be used to make wooden building elements. When these elements are used to construct the Visitor Information Center, a completely natural building is created that also fits the location both metaphorically and visually.

The interior of the BIC is characterized by the earth and by living and lifeless wood, emphasizing the connection between the building and the place. Together with the light that enters through the facade, but also strikes through the roof along the tree trunks, the moisture that seeps in over the bark of the tree, and the smell and sounds that enter the building through the openings in the roof, this creates space that is suitable is for reflection.
The visitors centre is made part of the existing forest which we therefore want to disturb as little as possible. The visitor information center is placed centrally in the group of pine trees. At this location, the building offers views of the two military cemeteries on both sides through the trees. The pavilion is reached from the public road via a path that meanders gently between the rows of beech trees. This path, like the pavilion floor, is paved by means of biocementation, and therefore remains part of the forest floor. Visitors walk along this path via the beech cathedral to the pavilion.
This means that we harvest a number of trees on the construction site, but we also leave some. We then mark the base of the building at the bottom of the forest. On this base, we harden the soil present on site by means of biocementation, whereby soil bacteria present harden the soil by the production of calcite. We then place a number of volumes in which facility functions are placed on this floor. We construct the walls of these volumes with “rammed earth”, in which locally extracted soil is compressed into a solid constructional wall. Above this substructure a skeleton of wooden tree trunks is placed, for which the trees that have been cut down here are used. A roof is made of cross-layer wood on which we apply a thin layer of soil material from the forest. The same organisms can then grow and live on this roof, which can also be found on and in the soil of the forest. So as little ecological value is lost as possible! The building is enclosed by a glass facade that protects against wind and weather, and also offers a view of the forest and the military plots of land on either side of it.
This creates a pavilion that is part of the forest and the fields of honor. Because existing trees remain standing, protrude through the roof, and become part of the interior, the forest is also continued on the inside of the building. In the rain, the water will flow to the bottom via these trunks. A special experience! The combination of grubbed trunks (for the purpose of construction) and living trunks gives architectural and poetic expression to the "arbitrariness" with which often young lives ended, while others survived. However, it is precisely these trees that now form a space for reflection and provide shelter.
In our design proposal, the BIC has a largely open floor plan in which the various main functions are connected without a barrier. The different spaces within the floor plan are defined by strategically placing round volumes in which, out of sight, facility functions are located. Immediately behind the entrance is the reception room with adjacent wardrobe and toilets. Both the exhibition space and the educational space are accessible from the entrance.
The exhibition space is a large open space, which is given character by the living trees that take root in the space and grow through the roof. Thanks to this set-up, the exhibition space is part of the environment and at the same time can be flexibly divided.
The educational space can be entered from the exhibition space, a smaller private space suitable for, for example, giving lectures or showing a film. From this space, the toilets and catering space are easily accessible, so that the educational space can function without disturbing the exhibition space.
The BIC is built with a number of different sustainable materials, which keeps the environmental impact of the building as low as possible.
The proposal is to create the pavilion's foundation and floor by hardening sand on site using soil bacteria. Under the right conditions and by adding (soil injection) certain nutrients, these bacteria can make a natural cement in the form of calcite. This is a mineral that is very common in nature. For example, limestone consists largely of calcite and sandstone often consists of sand grains cemented by calcite. Calcite is very stable under natural soil conditions. It does not "perish" and is practically insoluble in natural groundwater, only with very acidic soils. Calcite deposits on the grains of sand and binds them together. This stabilizes the soil, thereby forming the floor and foundation. An additional advantage is that CO2 is not emitted during the formation of this material, but that CO2 is correctly absorbed and stored in the material. Studio Marco Vermeulen has experience with the application of this material.
The interior walls of the building are constructed from “rammed earth”, called “rammed earth” in Dutch. A mixture of loam and sand that is locally extracted is compressed (and vibrated) in such a way that hard material is created. In dry conditions this is strong and durable. Worldwide, centuries-old examples of buildings built with this material can be found, but modern architects also use it to build, including examples in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Because this material is formed by compacting existing soil, there is little to no harm to the environment.
The roof and columns of the BIC mainly consist of wood. We learn early in school that trees convert CO2 under the influence of sunlight into glucose, or wood. When trees die and rot, this CO2 is released again. If we burn wood and use it to generate electricity and heat our homes, the stored CO2 is released again. However, if we make building materials out of it, we can capture the CO2 for tens, perhaps hundreds of years!
In other words, building with wood actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere. In short, building with wooden elements contributes to the reduction of the greenhouse effect.

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