Domain De Hoge Rielen is an accommodation center where multifunctional activities and innovative nature educational initiatives for young people are organized. To understand the project, we must go back to the 1960’s when domain De Hoge Rielen was created to serve as a military landscape during the Cold War. The British Army built storage sheds and camps across Europe to respond quickly in case of military turmoil. However, when the sheds were eventually constructed in Kasterlee, the military concept of local operating bases was already outdated. As a result, the domain had a military purpose for only eight years. Since 1976 the domain is used as youth accommodation. At that time the buildings were not valued as military historical heritage, and this can be clearly seen in the way the buildings were treated. Several sheds were radically renovated to serve as accommodation buildings. The Theater exemplifies this with the addition of a large chimney in brown-red masonry which also covers the front façade. In 2004, a master plan was developed by Studio Secchi & Viganó that divides the domain into a natural, military, and educational layer, whereby value is attached to the buildings as military heritage. The renovation of the pavilions, for which dmvA was appointed, is part of this master plan.
The natural landscape has ecological and aesthetic value and consists of pine forests and patches with higher biodiversity, including heathland. The military landscape is characterized by sheds, mounds, and water basins that are scattered across the terrain according to the rules of 'the right distance' among a network of roads.
The educational and recreational layer, which is expressed as a youth center, uses the first two layers as a basis and includes an internal and an external part. The internal part consists of proximity areas that serve group activities. Each proximity area has a pavilion or camping area as a center, combined with an open space for games and campfires. The external part of the educational layer consists of the central path and collective facilities such as the reception area and the Wadi hostel. The central path is the backbone of the domain and serves as a connection for soft traffic between the surrounding villages.
The masterplan by Studio Secchi & Viganò analyzes a gradient on the domain that is characterized on the western side by constructions with an expressive architectural language that fits the more public character, and that transitions towards an authentic military landscape towards the east. This is exemplified by the reception building at the western entrance gate (Erik Wieërs, 2002), designed as an imposing maxi-shed to accommodate groups, and Hostel Wadi (Secchi-Viganò, 2013), which offers accommodation in a circular structure that blends completely into the greenery.
In the middle of the domain, the buildings have been extensively transformed since the 1980s, but are more low-profile in design than the volumes on the western side. It is within this context that dmvA realized Theater and Building 39 as understated volumes based on the existing sheds. On the eastern side, the military landscape is most tangible and authentic. Here, the sheds are seen as covered and protecting volumes, with their shells remaining intact. In this zone, dmvA approached Building 27 and Building 30 in a restorative way. Additionally, dmvA and OMGEVING created Fire place B, which fits within the concept of a proximity area with space for a campfire and group activities.
The existing pavilion was demolished due to its poor building physics condition and a new accommodation was created for groups with 20 fixed sleeping places. The new building was designed according to the same logic as the military buildings, taking into account contemporary techniques and functional requirements. The building was therefore conceived as a shelter under which the pavilion was built. This shelter was realized in fiber cement corrugated sheets in line with the material use on the site. The exterior was finished with prefabricated concrete panels, with an alignment and rhythm of window openings that refer to the construction of the military sheds, with a focus on functionality and robustness. The exterior joinery was made of wood.
The four bedrooms of the pavilion are organized on either side of the central living space. Large windows on the north and south sides maximize contact between the living space, the central path and the surrounding nature. The sleeping areas are organized in pairs, each with four bunk beds and integral accessible sanitary facilities.
The Theater building includes a large multifunctional space that can be used for a music performance, a dance show, a reception, a meeting... It is a unique brick project where the history of the Hoge Rielen is visible through various types of masonry. For instance, the original military phase is reflected in the steel frame with infill brickwork in stretcher bond. The start of the pedagogical phase in the 1980s is visible through the brickwork in random bond (the chimney). The refinement and preservation of this historical legibility was the key principle in the design of the reconversion. To realize the requested program, extensions have been added that are executed in glued brickwork in stack bond, creating a new time layer. dmvA made the choice to insulate the shed on the inside, in order to keep the military frame and its additions legible. The wall construction successively contains the original military masonry, thermal insulation, and acoustic concrete blocks to improve the acoustic indoor climate. The choice of materials also creates a duality in atmosphere: The interior has a sober neutral feeling, while the exterior exudes a warm atmosphere due to the red bricks.
In line with the chimney of the 1980s that is placed literally on the main road, the extensions are conceived sculpturally. The shed is no longer regarded as a closed box, but instead interaction is sought with the surroundings and the main road. This interaction is reinforced by creating openings in the south façade and the fireplace.
On all sides of the multipurpose hall, a curtain rail has been installed that ends in a circular rail in the middle of the hall. This allows users to determine the atmosphere and daylight entry of the room according to the function and needs, which reinforces the flexibility and versatility of the hall.
Building 27 is a well-preserved military shed that is now used as a base for the adventure park. The exterior was renovated with a restoration attitude, and inside a grandstand, storage space, and sanitation facilities were provided to support the adventure course. dmvA designed a climbing element, placed over the embankment around the building, as an intermediate link between the shed where initiation lessons are given and the tower that leads to the adventure park. The construction consists of yellow steel plates and has been made as reversible as possible by only anchoring it to the foundation soles. Two yellow sliding gates were provided on the south facade of the building, corresponding to the climbing element.
This shed was preserved in its original form and is characterized by a steel frame construction with red brickwork and fiber cement corrugated sheets. Since this shed is located on the east side of the domain, a restorative approach was taken with minimal interventions. The building serves as a shelter for the adjacent camping area to play, eat, sleep, or cook. The exterior was renovated and provided with new red emergency doors in the gable ends.
Fire place B
The campfire site was designed in collaboration with OMGEVING landscape architects. The existing fire pit, which was nothing more than a charred piece of ground, was transformed into a fixed campfire ring with 180 seats. It forms a partly elevated, partly sunken circle in the open landscape. The entrance where the seating edges disappear is centrally accessible for wheelchair users. A storage space made of stainless steel is provided on the slope, in which a wheelbarrow can be stored for the supply of firewood.