LocHal in Tilburg, Netherlands

Stair Landscape by Civic Architects

As forecasters into the future of culture and civic institutions, we’re constantly on the lookout for new models and programs that challenge the status quo. Fortunately, there are plenty of inspiring new organizations that break the mold of tradition without trying to reinvent the wheel. For our first #InspiredBy post, we head to LocHal in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

One of the projects that has most inspired us lately is LocHal, a mixed-use cultural hub that takes its name from the building’s original use as a locomotive hall, built in 1932. Those of you who are connected with us on Twitter and Instagram will recognize this project from when David visited a few weeks back.

LocHal shows what can be done when a large, indoor space the scale of a mall, for example, is allotted to a hybrid institution centered on public life and culture instead of shopping. LocHal houses the Central Brabant Province Library, the nonprofit arts organization Kunstloc Brabant, a coworking startup called Seats2Meet, Brabant C, a regional investment fund for culture and the creative industry, and more. The overall spatial design gives visitors and staff the license to roam freely and see what is happening around the building, while at the same time carving out more intimate and secluded areas when desired or needed.

A variety of levels are layered into the building’s spacious volume, with catwalks and the generous “stair landscape,” designed by Civic Architects. These types of structures are social, both offering a way to navigate the space as well as a casual seating area. A set of amazing curtains made by Petra Blaisse of Inside Outside and TextielLab serve as flexible space partitions.  Mecanoo’s interior design work brings together industrial steel, wood, and a warm color palette with playful furniture (some of it made from old books) to make the interior visually interesting and welcoming. Diagonal ramps reminiscent of Centro Cultural, a 1979 building designed by Eurico Prado Lopes and Luiz Telles in São Paulo, Brazil, provide varied sightlines and a vertical dimension to the expansive interior. While LocHal is a unique institution, its spatial program as well as the designers’ careful attention to sustainability come together naturally.

The most exciting thing about LocHal, to us, is that its users do not have a straightforward or typical profile—quite the contrary, they are incredibly varied. On a given day, someone might be there to: work on a project, hold a meeting, have lunch and a coffee, attend a writing workshop, browse the children’s library with their kids, have a few hours of quiet study, learn how to design a robot using open-source software, see a live performance, or enjoy an art exhibition. Being in the space, you do not feel like you are in a library, an arts institution, or a co-working space, although it accommodates all of these uses within, and does so beautifully. LocHal feels like a public square that just happens to be indoors.

What’s more, each season, LocHal organizes its programming of lectures, debates and exhibitions around a new overarching theme to encourage public discourse on pressing issues. The current theme is #Transformation because “the LocHal embodies both timelessness and transition. It is pre-eminently a place to understand and take the constant changes of city and society. A place where the world becomes bigger and new futures imaginable,” in the words of the architects. “The LocHal redefines the library typology.” It is a true hybrid: By combining a variety of functions and resources, it creates an entirely new kind of institution that breeds new possibilities for how we think, work, learn, rest, socialize, and go about our day.

Taken from the stair landcsape with a view to the City Café, flanked by the mechanized curtains.
Another perspective on the stair landscape with workspaces beyond the steel framework.