Metal Structures Centre: A showroom for the versatility of steel in construction

The aim for this new steel research centre in Belgium was to employ as many steel solutions as possible. The building is a showroom for the versatility of steel in construction - more than 300 tonnes were used and different coatings ensure the required aesthetics.

Detailed information

Situated in a 52-hectare technological park just outside Ghent, Belgium, this new campus of the Metal Structures Centre was opened in September 2011. The 8300-metre-square building comprises laboratories, mechanical testing and welding halls, warehouse space, offices, and meeting rooms.

The Metal Structures Centre (MSC) is a joint project of Ghent University, OCAS (a partnership between ArcelorMittal and the Flemish Region), and the Belgian Welding Institute. The MSC partners work together to coordinate research and develop competencies in the design, use, and behaviour of steel structures.

The building was conceived as a demonstration of the versatility of steel, so the project partners set strict design criteria: apart from its functionality, the new Metal Structures Centre was characterised by a distinct architectural design employing as many steel solutions as possible. Naturally, sustainability also played an important role: minimum energy consumption was required and construction and maintenance costs needed to be low.

Archipl Architecten from Ghent accepted the challenge to design this building, while the engineering department of ArcelorMittal Ghent and OCAS provided technical assistance. Certain steel solutions were developed specifically for this new research centre.

Sustainability features

Rainwater recycling
A covered walkway constitutes the entrance to the building with its roof acting as a rainwater collector. Instead of entering the sewage system, the rainwater is first diverted to a buffer tank which supplies water for the sanitation of the whole building. Once the buffer is full, the rainwater is directed to an infiltration system, which allows it to percolate down to the ground water. The infiltration system minimises runoff when heavy showers occur and avoids overloading the local waste water systems.

Heating and cooling
With its modern design calling for large open spaces and expanses of glass, maintaining a comfortable environment inside the building could adversely affect the energy consumption during the building’s service life.  

Rather than installing energy intensive air conditioning and cluttering the floor space with radiators, the designers chose to install a natural heating and cooling system based on the principle of concrete core activation (CCA). It uses the mass of the building’s steel and concrete floor as a heating or cooling bank. The floor is heated or cooled using water which circulates through the slab. This way, the air is warmed or cooled by the slab and a constant temperature is attained inside the building.

Functionality & aesthetics: Solutions made of steel

The entry hall shows the structural skeleton of the building with visible H-columns and bracing (supplied by ArcelorMittal), a design principle recurring throughout floors 1 to 3 just above the entrance hall.

This central facade is clad in ArcelorMittal’s weathering steel Indaten®. Unlike other installations, the weathering steel on this facade has not been pre-treated to advance the aging process. Instead, the steel naturally acquires its distinctive rusty colour.

The other buildings (laboratory, mechanical testing, and welding halls) are fully designed in steel.

The bronze shimmer of the interior decoration complements the reddish brown of the Indaten® feature wall which can be seen from the reception area.

Generally, the concrete core activation used for heating and cooling does not allow the use of false ceilings which usually hide service installations such as lighting, water and air conducts, etc.

In this case however, the designers developed a feasible solution: In order to ensure correct circulation of the air as required for the CCA, an open-grid false ceiling was installed. The 60x60 cm standard panels of the grid are made with metallic coated steel from ArcelorMittal.

Project information

  • Zwijnaarde
  • Belgium
  • Architect:
    Archipl Architecten (Paul Van Eygen & Patrick Lefebure)
  • 2/2010 - 9/2011
  • Client:
    DAF GROUP nv
  • Engineering:
    ArcelorMittal Engineering Department Ghent & OCAS
  • Text:
    ArcelorMittal Europe - Flat Products & Constructalia
  • Photographers:
    Gert De Vos & Jeroen Op de Beeck