The design for a major new performing arts centre in Flanders has been entrusted to London architects Sergison Bates. The €60 million project is part of a plan to redevelop the site of the former Sint-Pieters Hospital in the heart of Leuven’s medieval city centre.
Sergison Bates already has a track record in Belgium, designing a residential quarter around Tour & Taxis in Brussels and taking part in the renovation of the Citroen Garage to become the Kanal Centre Pompidou. The team it has put together for the Leuven project includes London theatre engineers Charcoalblue and Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt. Together they beat 65 other candidates from around the world to win the commission.
The ambition, according to Flanders’ Master Architect, is to develop the whole site into a lively arts quarter and an urban meeting place. “The city council wants to give this unique location a distinct identity and appeal by enhancing the qualities of the heritage and the landscape of the River Dijle with architecture and public space of the highest quality,” the agency said when putting the project out to bid.
Implicit in the plan is to build something more congenial than the massive hospital towers which have overshadowed this neighbourhood for so long.
Sergison Bates has proposed a design with two halls, the largest with a capacity of 800 to 1,000 seats, the smaller seating 400 to 500 people. Both halls are designed to be flexible, welcoming large theatre and dance performances, concerts, congresses, festivals and even the circus if necessary.
There will also be rehearsal rooms, with additional public spaces in the foyer and on the roof, and must meet the city’s desire to fit in with the neighbourhood. “One of the great strengths of the design vision of Sergison Bates architects is that the new building is very nicely embedded in the unique historical heritage environment,” said Carl Devlies, city councillor responsible for urban planning. “The Romanesque Gate, the old Sint-Pieters guest house and the Predikheren church form an integral part of the project and of the site.”
The building will have a transparent façade, with glass sections that echo aspects of nearby historic buildings. There will also be a passage from Brusselsestraat to a park that will be developed along the banks of the river Dijle.
The City Council is set to approve the proposal at the end of April. If all goes to plan, the venue will open between 2025 and 2027. It is hoped that the building will help Leuven’s candidature as a European Capital of Culture in 2030.
Source: Flanders Today (Ian Mundell)
Picture: Sergison Bates, Forbes Massie Studio