18th century weaving factory restored to its former glory as a design showroom in Belgium

‘Ark38’ showroom: a converted knitting factory

In the industrial city of Aalst, Belgium, a former 18th century weaving mill and former Tupperware factory now houses the ‘Ark38’ showroom for bathroom and kitchen furniture specialist Sterck NV. The founders Hans and Stijn Sterck launched the restoration in 2018, joining forces with Objekt Architecten to revive the historic building without taking away its brick cladindustrial character, resulting in a harmonious aesthetic.

The architectural language and interior design options reinforce the industrial and historical character of this valuable building without falling into stereotypes. The ultimate function of the building as a furniture showroom creates internal tension. The exposed modern elements will enhance the whole and vice versa. Experience was sought in the broad sense of the word. A place where people can explore in peace.,’ writes Sterck NV.

all images © Ypsilon

retaining its industrial character with modern touches

‘Ark38’ is distinguished by its typical brick architecture with three symmetrical bays, all restored to their finest splendor through an intricate cleaning process. On the original front façade, large rectangular raised brick masonry planes are now fitted with reinforced openings with a rounded concrete frame at the top. The concrete contrasts nicely with the old bricks while acting as a support structure. The team also placed new exterior millwork behind the façade and large openings on the sides, adjacent to the parking lot, which serve as storefronts that let in plenty of natural light.

Meanwhile, Sterck (see more here) and Objekt Architecten (and here) had to determine the relationship between the structure of the building and the arrangement of the interior furniture. Therefore, when designing the showroom, they decided to work with three raw materials: concrete, metal, and wood, each of which filled the open space and sectioned off the building. Along the left and center hallways, a concrete disc ceiling now rests on three architectural supports that double as backs when displaying furniture. The disc creates a more closed-in feel to the underlying showroom; it also provides additional usable space on the upper level which can be accessed via two concrete stairs (inclined and spiral).

18th century weaving factory restored to its former glory as a design showroom in Belgium
The ‘Ark38’ showroom is a restored 18th century weaving factory.

A walkway connects that additional floor to a ‘metal’ volume just behind it, located along the left and center corridors at the rear of the building. This volume houses offices, storage areas, bathrooms, technical rooms and a kitchen in which cooking demonstrations can be organized. ‘Covering this volume with expanded metal also visually reinforces the various functions.,’ points out the team.

Following this metal block, there is a large patio at the height of the right side nave, within the original limits of the old winery. On the one hand, this outdoor space provides light in the adjacent large void with flexible workplaces. On the other hand, climbing plants can grow here to create a green oasis. An additional floor was designed in the right section, where a third element, wood, prevails. This floor is separated from the front and rear façade, allowing the visitor to continue to experience the spaciousness in this hallway as well. Finally, through a staircase located in the center of the double-height space in the front, you reach the floor that was completely finished with a wooden parquet floor on 2 levels.

18th century weaving factory restored to its former glory as a design showroom in Belgium
the brick architecture was preserved to its past splendor

18th century weaving factory restored to its former glory as a design showroom in Belgium
large rectangular planes in embossed brick equipped with concrete frames

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