It’s not often that a beautiful and whimsical piece of civic architecture is lauded for its hidden structural aspects, but a new ice-skating rink that has recently surfaced in the Belgian city of Liège has green building advocates spouting as much praise as design critics.
The rink, designed by Belgium’s L’Escaut Architectures, is not only an attractive place to strap on a pair of skates, it’s also a pretty good example of passive-house thermal building techniques expanded to the size of a 1,200-seat arena. With nearly 10-inch-thick insulated walls, very few porthole-shaped windows and an ingenious heat-recycling HVAC system, the rink sits lightly in the tightly packed Médiacité neighborhood. Oh, and it happens to be shaped somewhat like a cute cartoon whale.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the rink is the gently rounded exterior skin, covered in more than 200,000 aluminum tiles in a scale-like pattern (yes, whales don’t have scales, but that’s beside the point). The streamlined reflective surface helps scatter the sun’s rays and regulate the interior temperature. Inside the rink, visitors will feel like Jonah looking up at the massive metal ribs holding up the roof.
According to L’Escault’s David Crambert, quoted in Fast Company’s Co.Exist site, the cetacean allusions of the structure began as an accident. “The rounded shape of the building first came from the metaphor of an ice cube,” he told the magazine. “The mammal atmosphere came during the design process. We realized bit by bit that the big window was becoming an eye and that the parking entrance could be seen as a mouth. Then we made a few twists to fully admit the resemblance.”
Today, the “public mammal” or “sea monster,” as L’Escault describes it, uses a heat pump HVAC system to recover heat from the two 1,000 kW compressing units that create the frozen skating surface. This heat is redirected to produce hot water and to warm other parts of the building, such as the café and an adjacent shopping area. As a result, the seating area stays at around 60 degrees F while the playing surface is kept at about 46 degrees F.
The rink is an entirely modern facility, but it also has a few nods to the past. The public viewing area uses seats that were recovered from Liège’s former Coronmeuse arena, which hosted in the “Grand Palais des fêtes,” during the Universal Exhibition of 1939.
All the added insulation used to keep the ice at a stable temperature has the added benefit of soundproofing. Even during raucous hockey games with a packed house, the noise levels on the street average a very comfortable 50 decibels, which is quieter than a typical conversation.