One-stop shop for sustainable, high quality and creative construction projects

Flashback to 1938. The newly established 'company for all public and private works', run by civil engineer Jan De Nul and his father, immediately wins a major project: the construction of a hospital and convent in Ninove. With the emphasis on offering an all-in service, the team concludes this litmus test. The rest is history. Today, 85 years later, we are still the same civil contractor we were then: with a distinct no-nonsense approach and we-can-do-this mentality, we ensure that clients can rest easy.

Double interview with John Van Vooren, Head of the Buildings Department, and Nelson Moors, Buildings Production Manager

The more challenging, the higher the added value

For what type of civil engineering projects is Jan De Nul the ideal partner?

John Van Vooren: "We excel especially in large, rather complex construction and infrastructure projects. These often involve challenges in terms of energy, financing, design, sustainability, safety and maintenance, to name but a few. That is exactly where the experience and expertise of our teams come into play, seasoned as they are in finding creative solutions. Give our engineers a white sheet and the rest will follow."

Nelson Moors: "And we can also do it all by ourselves, from start to finish. Design, remediation, construction, financing, maintenance, energy management... We have a specialist in-house team for each phase. Think of the foundation expertise of our subsidiary Soetaert or the soil expertise of our environment department Envisan. To make it more concrete: we can completely transform a heavily contaminated site into a sustainable, low-energy project within a relatively short period of time."

Do you also explicitly seek out those large all-in projects?

Nelson: "In a way, yes. As an individual, people usually grow faster by executing smaller projects, but to move forward as an organisation, it's better to push one’s boundaries with larger projects. Today, for instance, we are building a prison for the first time, as well as air bases for F-35 aeroplanes – things we weren't yet ready for five years ago. The fact that we are now is because as a team we have worked towards it step by step by deliberately expanding our comfort zone."

John: "Being proficient in several fields also inspires confidence among clients, one of the many reasons why our civil activities are still on the rise. We are known as reliable doers. However vague that may sound, at the end of the day that is often what matters to clients. Construction has become more versatile, with several boxes that must be ticked: from fire safety and EPB requirements to modularity. Both private and public parties therefore want to outsource the whole package to one contractor, and we can offer that."

Surfing along on the latest construction trends

The construction industry is facing increasing pressure. How are you handling the shortage of suitable workers in the labour market?

John: "We are fortunate that, as an established player, we can still count on an extensive team. Moreover, people stay with Jan De Nul for a long time, keeping expertise largely in-house. However, we cannot deny that we too have many vacancies. We must find solutions for this without compromising on the quality or speed of projects."

Nelson: "This means, for instance, that we are looking more and more towards modular and prefabricated systems. Digitalisation and robotics are also playing an increasingly important role. For instance, masonry robots can partly compensate for the shortage of bricklayers and we are relying even more than ever on techniques such as BIM modelling to make construction sites as efficient as possible. In short, we keep a close eye on the market and maintain our position at the forefront of the civil construction industry with targeted investments."

Are there any other trends that you are helping to shape?

Nelson: "It is no secret that sustainability and energy are two top priorities for any new project. Obviously, we closely monitor those areas to find the right match for each project. This includes next-gen solar panels for green energy, heat recovery from sewage water, blue-green roofs for a cooling effect, heat-as-a-service to reduce investments, etc."

John: "In doing so, we are also mindful of the surrounding area. For instance, how can we use residual heat from a nearby company or share our power and heat surpluses with local residents?  With the construction of our new office buildings in Aalst, we’re already targeting more than just our own consumption with an extensive solar panel farm."

Finally, which three words could sum up best Jan De Nul's strength as a civil contractor?

John: "Sustainable, high-quality and creative. But those three words are backed by a number of preconditions that make such a combination possible, such as our financial stability and a multidisciplinary team."

Nelson: "Let me add customer satisfaction to that. We always do what we promise. It is no coincidence that in most cases clients come to us, and not the other way around."

6 Projects in the picture

Prison in Antwerp

Jan De Nul is part of the Hortus Conclusus consortium, which is responsible for the design, construction, financing and maintenance of Antwerp's new prison. When completed at the end of 2025, the 40,000 m2 building must accommodate 440 prisoners, both men and women. There will also be a section for those in need of care, including a psychiatric ward. The project is part of the federal government's master plan and focuses on humane detention and internment. In 2022, we continued fine-tuning and finalising the design.

Fire station in Dendermonde

This brand new fire station with double access merges effortlessly into the street scene thanks to its façade in natural stone and brick. The total interior surface area amounts to 3,650 m2 and, in addition to operational areas, houses a crisis centre, two multi-purpose rooms and a cafeteria. On top are green roofs, interrupted by heat pumps and solar panels. To meet the 500-day deadline, flawless preparation was crucial and we worked with a full-fledged prefabricated solution.

Apartment building ‘Nieuw Zuid’ in Antwerp

Two magnificent buildings along the Scheldt, the tallest of which has 23 floors, ensure exceptional living quality. The layout of the 287 flats is particularly well thought-through, the living spaces are extra high, and there is a semi-public inner garden in the centre as well as a spacious collective roof terrace. The pristine vistas complete the picture. This design by award-winning architects gives us another opportunity to demonstrate our expertise in the housing market.

School in Anderlecht

For the construction of two school buildings, each with its own sports infrastructure, and an accompanying refectory, we are using various construction methods and materials. For instance, the school buildings mainly consist of a precast concrete structure with prefabricated floors. In turn, the refectory is built in a timber structure with laminated elements. This is an all-in turnkey project, where our expertise in overall project coordination comes in handy.

Air bases in Florennes and Kleine Brogel

In 2025, Belgian Defence expects a first delivery of brand new F-35A fighter jets. Accommodated in two identical, functional air bases. An important consideration for this project was minimising the carbon footprint, both in the design of the bases and during their construction. For instance, the buildings will be 100% sustainably heated and cooled. Solar panels will provide electricity. Jan De Nul will also be responsible for the maintenance of both air bases until 2037.

Own office building in Aalst

In Aalst, we are developing our own new office site. An important part of this is a completely new building with 10,000 m² of office space spread over seven aboveground levels. Targeted design choices ensure that the building fits in perfectly with its surroundings. Think of the 45° rule, which makes the building look less tall and reduces cast shadow. Sustainable techniques such as blue-green roofs, an underground Borehole Thermal Energy Storage (BTES) system and solar panels on the roof underline our ambition to build with respect for the future.a

This article is an extract from our 2022 Annual Report.