Following two demolition campaigns for a world exhibition in 1913 and an administrative centre never built in the 60s, Ghent’s historic heart degenerated for decades into a desolate parking lot in between a suite of three adjoining Gothic towers; which prompted the city to hold a competition to re-activate the space. Local practice Robbrecht en Daem architecten in collaboration with MJosé Van Hee architects proposed somewhat of their own program, going beyond the competition brief to not only provide open space for events and the public, but also reinstate the presence of the traditional architecture.
The building positions itself between Poeljemarkt, Goudenleeuwplein, and a new lower ‘green’ connecting to the ‘brasserie’, bicycle park and public toilets below the hall. And although the building clearly occupies a position on the 24,000m2 site, it fits in well. As an urban interior, the inside embraces the passer-by with an overall form recalling the vernacular of the area and time, clad in natural wood tiles covered by a thin layer of glass that subtly reflects the sky on the surface. Four large concrete columns hoist the steep-gabled canopy structure above the ground, creating a deep interior space lit from hundreds of open silvers in the roof plan. The second level below contains a market place next to a green area, integrated with the multi-use hall above.
The exterior, the entire building in fact, seems to assume a respectful role relative to the nobler historic stone buildings, by using a wooden, almost humble, finish. A glass envelope protects the wood and provides a soft shine, with the sky reflected, integrated. Large buffer basins to absorb rainwater, principles of low energy consumption for the brasserie, use of truly natural materials, the contribution of public transport and a clear vision about giving new value to the historic centre with its old spatial structures, are just parts that broadly flesh out ‘sustainability’ for the future. The centre of Ghent will again become a social spot for people.