The assignment

The requirements for a new casino building in Middelkerke encompassed a wide array of objectives. The design had to accommodate a reinforcement of the sea embankment, a plan to enhance the quality of the public space by removing car traffic and also unify the boulevard and the Epernay square. This describes the starting point  for the design ZJA made, in collaboration with OZ, DELVA landscape architects and Bureau Bouwtechniek, as members of the Nautilus Consortium.

The centre of Middelkerke needed a rejuvenating impulse to create conditions for living and visiting the coast that met the contemporary requirements and preferences of residents and tourist alike. This called for a new lay out of the Epernay square, becoming a car free zone thanks to the planned underground parking garage, and seeing its surface doubled in size. This connects it to the centre and allows access by car while still giving most space to pedestrians and cyclists. At least as important as the casino itself was the need for a multipurpose building, that could serve as a social and cultural meeting point for Middelkerke; a new living room for the town, to host conventions, exhibitions and concerts. On top of that, the development of a hotel right on the beach would stimulate tourism.

A new relationship with the landscape

In collaboration with OZ, DELVA Landscape architects and Bureau Bouwtechniek, ZJA produced a design that excels in integrating the casino, the hotel and the multipurpose hall into the characteristic West Flemish dune landscape. This had disappeared behind the dead straight sea embankment and the wall of buildings made out of bricks and concrete. This project offered the opportunity to call to memory the history of Middelkerke as a thriving town on the medieval island of Testerep, halfway between Westende and Oostende. And so it does by creating a space in the centre of town that creates a renewed relationship with the landscape of dunes, beach and gullies. The casino building offers a contemporary way to experience the historic coastal landscape in the centre of Middelkerke.

The sea embankment will be reconstructed more towards the sea, creating extra space that offers an open view and breaking the monotony of the straight embankment. This allows for the Epernay square to be extended by a high artificial dune, on top of which a green square with ponds and fountains arises. This results in a natural and attractive place to linger, with views of the sea and direct access to the beach. The multipurpose hall, the restaurant and the casino are built into the dune, but all have transparent facades and spectacular views. Large terraces in front of the restaurant and the casino profit from this panorama.

The heart of the hotel tower consists of a high lobby that gives access to the multipurpose hall, the restaurant and the casino. The Middelkerke casino is a unique feature on the Flemish coast, in its confluence with the landscape and its sea view. And where else can you book a hotel room literally on the beach and have breakfast on the sixth floor, overlooking the entire coastline?

The dune and the eye-catcher

The artificial dune introduces the surrounding landscape and the gullies back into the centre of town. This ‘landscraper’ combines a dune/square and the functions of casino, multipurpose hall and hotel with the open space of the beach. Inside and outside interact intensely on all levels. This design adapts to the landscape in a contemporary way, never becoming cheap or loud.

The four-story hotel is the striking but modest ‘skyscraper’ on the beach. It is an eye catcher, but one that echoes the contained strength and austerity of the Flemish coastal landscape in its design. Its shape is simple but mysterious, referring to the shapes and colours from nature or from the fishing port. The hardwood veil around the hotel will weather much like the wood in the quays, the doors of the locks, the mooring posts. A sophisticated lighting design built into the facade highlights the wooden structure after sundown. By day and by night the hotel appears as a welcoming beacon, a sculpture with soft contours.

Sustainability

The design minimalizes the use of energy and material in the building process, but the choice for more efficient production processes and the application of recycled material also make this a sustainable design. Sustainability and environmental criteria are not an afterthought but of the same crucial order as safety, functionality, aesthetics and economic value. The artificial dune and the awning part of it near the terraces of the hotel and the casino are an energy saving element. By offering shadow in summer and insulation during the winter. The choice for wood, specifically cross laminated timber, in the open casing around the hotel tower saves enormous quantities of CO2, because it is a renewable and circular material.

What draws people to Middelkerke

Thanks to the parking garage underneath the dune, removing cars from the Epernay square and expanded public space towards the sea room has been created for what can safely be called a place of interest, a sight to be seen: the green dune-like square with ponds and fountains, leading to the beach. This is the experience that draws people to Middelkerke. The raw and open character of the sea is smoothly and invitingly fused with the landscape of beach and dune and entwined with the economic and cultural vital functions that give to Middelkerke the reserved elegance that characterizes a contemporary seaside resort.

The Nautilus consortium is a collaboration between developer Ciril, chief designers ZJA (architecture) and DELVA (landscape architecture), OZ (casino and hotel design) and Bureau Bouwtechniek (executive architect), contractors Furnibo and Democo. They are assisted by experts from COBE, VK Engineering, Beersnielsen, Witteveen+Bos, Plantec, MINT and Sertius.

Year: 2020 – present

Project: #1172

Visuals and animation: Proloog