De Zwarte Hond connects the new De Vaart children’s centre with its village surroundings

De Zwarte Hond has realized De Vaart, a large-scale children’s centre, in Ter Aar. It was designed for Nieuwkoop municipality and opened its doors in 2021. The greatest challenge of the design was to create a harmonious correspondence with the small-scale environment. The multifunctional centre brings all of Ter Aar’s social functions together under a single roof: a primary school, childcare centre, youth and family centre, library and large sports hall. Functions that were previously scattered are now connected. The mission was to unite the large scale of the children’s centre with the village environment. Harmony with the surroundings is therefore the major theme of the design.

Unity with the environment
The design takes careful account of the leap in scale from the large building volume that was needed to the small scale of the existing village. In order to create harmony between the different scales, the sports hall is partly sunk into the ground. In addition, the changing rooms next to the sports hall are completely underground. With these interventions, the visible building volume has been reduced, and the openness of the plinth has been preserved.

The roof is divided into several gable roofs that follow the rhythm of the surrounding houses. As a result, the building is playfully divided into several building volumes. A clearly visible division in the façade and the choice of materials for the façade cladding ensure further harmony with the environment. The wooden finish visually reduces the massive character of the building. In addition, the brickwork in the plinth makes the building resilient to damage. All this gives the children’s centre a friendly appearance, despite its volume, that fits in with the small-scale, village surroundings.

The children’s centre links the open sports fields and a residential area surrounded by greenery. The outdoor space surrounding the building was designed by Felixx Landscape Architects and Planners. The scheme was jointly created to connect the Argonne Park, the sports fields and the grounds around the school into an integrated green landscape to the south of the village.

Building as meeting place
Internally, the space is divided in a homely way, with space for different scales. There are places for one or two, rooms for groups and a centre for everyone. Structurally, the building corresponds to Ter Aar. A sports canteen serves as a village square around which the library, the sports hall and the children’s facilities cluster. This village square is where visitors meet, both directly and indirectly. If you look up, you see children reading in their classroom; and if you look down, you have a view of the sports hall. This makes the building a dynamic whole in which different functions are brought together.

With a view to a long lifespan, the building has been laid out as flexibly as possible. It was the client’s ambition to create a meeting place for young and old. This happens in the heart of the building, the core where all functions come together and visitors enter the space. From this heart, the various functions fan out over the two wings of the L-shaped, 6,700-m2 floor plan. Due to the functional diversity, there is activity in the building at every time of the day, even in periods when there is no active education. In the design of the user areas, possible future adjustments in education have been taken into account, by using open learning spaces instead of traditional classrooms.

The building achieves the smallest possible carbon footprint. It is energy neutral, because most of the roof surface is covered with solar panels. An installation that enables heat exchange with the ground ensures that the building does not have to use gas. Finally, the use of wood in the façade compensates for the carbon released during construction.