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Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium

This dramatic roof structure by Belgian practices Robbrecht en Daem architecten and MJose Van Hee Architecten houses a new market hall for Ghent. The market hall, a part of the KoBra – project: a big urban redevelopment of the public spaces in the historic center of Ghent, is a covered place for concerts, markets, dance or art events.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-02-Hufton_Crow-759x514 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Hufton + Crow

  • The roof structure and the use of glass, wood and concrete are very striking. This location can host concerts, dance performances and markets. The small city park on the second – lower – level is surrounded by a brick wall. This is the place to be if you’re looking to relax, read or simply hang around. Stairs and ramps connect the park with the street levels higher up. Diagonal walking paths connect the Donkersteeg with the Mageleinstraat and Cataloniëstraat, inviting you to shop and enjoy a stroll.
Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-04-Hufton_Crow-759x798 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Hufton + Crow

Anchored by four concrete ‘feet’, the canopy is topped by a dual-gabled timber structure, featuring hundreds of small slits that filter light into the sheltered plaza’s centre. Spanning 40m in length, the hall sits on the site of a former car park, which was paved and transformed by the architects and now contains a small park, bicycle parking space, a bar and restaurant, and tram stops.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-11-Tim-Van-de-Velde-759x506 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Tim Van de Velde

Last decennia the historic center of Ghent degenerated into a desolate parking lot in between a site of three Gothic towers: St. Nicholas Church, the Belfry and the St. Baafs cathedral. The city was looking for a solution to transform the historic center back into a more vivid public place. In 1996 they launched a design competition for an underground car park at the Emile Braunplein.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-14-flickr-Ken-Lee-759x569 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© flickr-Ken Lee

That’s when Robbrecht and Daem architects came in the picture; they didn’t propose an underground car park, but a building, which sketches seem very similar to the monumental construction that is built now, that assumed a respectful role alongside the historic buildings. At the time the jury thought it was an absurd idea but four years later a new competition was launched and contained a lot of elements that Robbrecht and Daem had already cited in 1996. They wanted to discourage vacancy like the previous decennia; it had to be an event place. Robbrecht and Daem presented their previous design with some refinement: A market hall which must structure the public place.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-17-Hufton_Crow Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Hufton + Crow

It became the market hall, part of the KoBra – project: a big urban redevelopment of the public spaces in the historic center of Ghent, a covered place for concerts, markets, dance or art events with underneath a brasserie with terrace followed by ‘the green’, a little park, bicycle park and public toilets. The metal construction is covered by an Afrormosia – wooden finish what will age over time so that it suits better in his context. It’s perforated with 1600 little windows that scatter the light in a dynamic way.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-23-Tim-Van-de-Velde-759x607 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Tim Van de Velde

The building of the market hall, also called ‘sheepfold’, caused divided opinions among the population. Not only the usual opposition against ‘the new’ caused commotion, the ‘sheepfold’ was seen as to drastic on the square. By its position, size and distinct presence people were worried that the market hall would block the view on the beautiful historic buildings.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-26-Hufton_Crow-759x840 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Hufton + Crow

But the market hall is located outside the perspective axis of the three surrounding towers, who are much higher. Instead of an open space, you get a ‘framed’ view from the different access, which benefits the towers. But the new hall structures the spaces and restores the historic squares. The bold design attracts many spectators and more and more people come to appreciate it.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-34-Tim-Van-de-Velde Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Tim Van de Velde

Robbrecht and Daem architects:

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. In two consecutive competitions between 1996 and 2005, Robbrecht en Daem architecten and Marie-José Van Hee architects proposed their own programme, countering the initial competition requirement. Rather than just providing an open space for events, they sought, by meticulously positioning a market hall, to rectify this deficiency and reinstate the presence of old urban areas that had become unrecognisable.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-41-Tim-Van-de-Velde Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Tim Van de Velde

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. Compared to St. Nicholas Church, Belfry and Cathedral, it assumes the heights of a lower group of buildings such as the adjacent town hall, from which it derives, mathematically, its profile.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-60-Hufton_Crow Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Hufton + Crow

As an urban interior, the inside embraces the passer-by with a dual modulated wooden ceiling, whose small windows scatter light inwards. 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.

Market-Hall-By-Robbrecht-en-Daem-MJose-Van-Hee-73-Tim-Van-de-Velde-759x607 Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten

© Tim Van de Velde

Project Data:

Project name: Market Hall & Central Squares
Location: Stadshal, Poeljemarkt, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Coordinates: 51.054016, 3.724372
Type: Public Facilities, Market, Mixed Use, Square, Pavilion
Program: Events hall, public functions and construction of streets and squares
Project Area: 30,000 sqm
Project Year: 1996 – 2012
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2012

Awards:
  • 2014 – Wallpaper Magazine Design Awards – Category: Best New Public Building – shortlist
  • 2013 – mies van der Rohe Awards – Finalist
  • 2013 – Prijs Bouwmeester Awards – Category: Urban Landscape – Winner
  • 2013 – Belgian Prize for Architecture Awards

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: City of Ghent, VVM De Lijn, TMVW
Architects:

Project Team:

  • Wim Menten, Bert Callens, Jan Baes, Tom Broe, Katrien Cammers, Axel Clissen, Mattias Deboutte, Petra Decouttere, Arne, DeRuyter, Linde Everaerd, Trice Hofkens, Gert Jansseune, Daniël Libens, Carmen Osten, Filip Reumers, Sofie Reynaert, Miriam Rohde, John Robbrecht, Marilù Sicoli, Gert Swolfs, Pieter Vanderhoydonck, Kathy Vermeeren, Caroline Voet, Wim Walschap

Engineers:

  • Structural Engineering: BAS, Dirk Jaspaert
  • Special Techniques Engineering: Studiebureau Boydens
  • Infrastructural Engineering: Technum-Tractebel Engineering

Landscape architect: Wirtz internationa
Modelling: Bernard Vandermeersch
Rendering: G2 architectural Graphics
Text Description: © Courtesy of Robbrecht en Daem architecten, MJose Van Hee Architecten, wallpaper, architectureaward, visitgent
Images: © Robbrecht en Daem architecten, MJose Van Hee Architecten, Hufton + Crow,  Tim Van de VeldeMarc De Blieck, flickr-Ken Lee, flickr-ken mccown, flickr-Ondrej Mika

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Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent Belgium / Robbrecht en Daem architecten + MJose Van Hee Architecten
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