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Five Easy Pieces – Vote Your Favorite One!

February 18, 2013

Since 1988 every two years the European Union awards the Mies Van Der Rohe  Prize to outstanding architectural projects designed and built in the member States. The nominations are made by a pool of independent experts, the member organisations of the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE-CAE),  the accredited associations for contemporary architecture at national level and an ad hoc advisory committee. Following remote selection of a shortlist of projects among the nominations, the jury undertakes to visit the projects on site. That is a very important step that precedes the awarding, reflecting the ambition of awarding the design and building process instead of the single architectural object.

I appreciate the rational behind the award and think that the awarded projects are always of extraordinary architectural quality and societal relevance.  However I do think that some kind of citizen’s participation and involvement  could reinforce the cultural and social impact of the prize. Therefore I kindly ask you to express your preference about the five finalists of the Mies Van Der Rohe European Union Prize 2013.

Market Hall, Ghent, Belgium
Robbrecht en Daem architecten; Marie-José Van Hee architecten

Market Hall, Stadshal Gent by Robbrecht en Daem Architecten and Marie-José Van Hee Architecten, Photo © Petra Decouttere

Photo © Petra Decouttere

Superkilen, Copenhagen, Denmark
BIG Bjarke Ingels Group; Topotek1; Superflex


Photo © Superflex

Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall & Conference Centre, Reykjavik, Iceland
Batteríid architects; Henning Larsen Architects; Studio Olafur Eliasson

IC02_NIc Lehoux

House for Elderly People, Alcácer do Sal, Portugal
Aires Mateus Arquitectos

House for Elderly People, Lar de Idosos em Alcácer do Sal, Portugal by AIRES MATEUS Photo © FG+SG

Photo © FG+SG

Metropol Parasol, Seville, Spain

J. Mayer H.

© David Frank

Photo © David Frank

40 Comments leave one →
  1. Yves de Clippele permalink
    March 7, 2013 10:36 am

    That the Ghent “City Hall” even manages to reach the nomination stage in this competition is quite subject to suspicion (which governance:?) and simply mind boggling. This costly, useless, disproportionate and misplaced monster is probably one the main disasters that have afflicted a European historical city since post-war reconstruction years. A matter for utmost shame for the otherwise uniquely beautiful Ghent.

    • els van cleemput permalink
      March 7, 2013 3:21 pm

      Allright, the Ghent City Hall was subject to a lot of discussion, with lots of pros and cons. But, now it’s finished, every open mind sees that it is just great. The modern architecture in the right proportions, shaded by old medieval buildings, and surrounded by a pleasant green. All together, it just fits, and does what it should do: bring people together – even in the first sunrays on an early spring evening. Visitors of Ghent: must see. And especially: enjoy.

      • Yves de Clippele permalink
        March 7, 2013 7:33 pm

        Sorry, but what you write is a rather painful, mere copy paste of the autistic propaganda produced by the promoters of this hall. The website here rightfully refers above to “societal relevance” and “citizen’s participation and involvement”. What happened in this project is exactly the contrary, hence raising severe issues of governance: a) The majority of the Ghent population voted, in a referendum, against a building, for a simple green park (obviously quite to the displeasure of some architect/concrete pouring lobbies); b) UNESCO expressed dismay, but too late: they had not even consulted despite the huge interference in a world heritage classified Belfry site! The argument of “bringing people together” is ludicrous: this building is just another, “1001st” café in the City. A lot is captured in the new nickname used by Ghent inhabitants for this “Stadshal” (City hall): “Schandhal” (Scandal, Hall of Shame).

      • Wannes Haghebaert permalink
        March 8, 2013 3:26 pm


        a) The majority of the Ghent population voted in a referendum in 1997 against the construction of an underground car park. In 2003 a new architectural competition was launched. Robbrecht, Daem and Van Hee won this competition with their model of the market hall.

        b) Unesco has also confirmed that indeed, the market hall is a daring intervention, but it does not affect the outstanding universal value of the historic and mediaeval buildings, notably the belfry.

    • March 7, 2013 5:26 pm

      I am not entitled to say much about the governance of the Mies Van Der Rohe European Prize, I have never been directly involved in it, but the way nominations are made, the selection procedures and the final results always seems quite transparent and fair to me.
      I am pleased to see lots of attention and radically divergent opinions about a new buinding in historic context. The Market Hall in Gent is certainly not conventional nor fashionable. It is a really surprising in such a context and I really look forward visiting it, next week, to be able to make my own opinion. I’ll take some pictures and write something about it here.

  2. Koen De Borger permalink
    March 11, 2013 4:40 pm

    @Mr De Clippel. You might want to check your facts: the semi-official nickname of the Ghent market hall is none other than ‘sheep shed’.

    • Yves de Clippele permalink
      March 16, 2013 12:38 pm

      I know this, and consider “sheep” as a very apt reference to the disastrous lack of governance allowing such a disaster. I trust this Hall of Sheeps / Shame will continue to attract many more nicknames (until the hopeful day it would burn down).

  3. Hans Van Doorne permalink
    March 12, 2013 12:08 am

    Not the architects, but their photographer and/or Photoshop merit the first price. The photo as seen on this presentation, shows a rather small building. In reality, te sheep shed hides all medieval monuments on the square. The few blades of grass take a quart of the picture: in reality, the “green” is only a few square metres tall. Above that, a man in Congo, where the wood for the sheep shed comes from, is killed to enable the harvest of the precious Afrormosia-wood. Other people were imprisioned. Afrormosia is a menaced species. To receive all permissions, customs- and Cites-documents are falsified. And, all that for a useless, ugly, tall shed.

    • March 12, 2013 11:12 am

      Hans, I allowed your comment because I think it is an interesting topic the difference between photographs and reality of architecture. Whether a building has the right scale or not is something you cannot really judge on the basis of pictures. On the other side on a good photograph you might discover details almost invisible in reality. With regard to the issue of exotic wood harvest and falsification of permissions I would prefer you to tell it to the competent authorities. This blog is not the right place for this kind of complaints!

      • Hans Van Doorne permalink
        March 15, 2013 10:10 pm

        Dear Antonio, I took some pictures of the sheep shed, like a tourist with a regular camera and lense would be able to do. Unfortunately, I did not find out how I could upload them. If you let me know your e-mailadress, I will forward them to you.

    • freek neirynck, perfesser Gensch steedelijk oenderwijs permalink
      March 18, 2013 6:11 am

      I agree.

      fRè!éK NeIrYnCk

  4. Yves de Clippele permalink
    March 16, 2013 12:27 pm

    I just found out that the authors of above postings, E. Van Cleemput and W. Haghebaert are both in charge of the City of Ghent Communication Service! Whilst they hence are paid to replicate the propaganda, they should be a bit more careful with the actual facts: a) In 2002 a population consultation regarding the 4 pre-projects expressed clear preference for a Dutch, purely green project, WITHOUT a building, rather than the actual “hall”; b) The latter was imposed by a “jury” of which the majority was made of Ghent City top civil servants (independence, governance???); c) UNESCO was not consulted and expressed dismay for this; the blunder was admitted by the City (ref. newspapers); d) The picture above, very misleading as mentioned in another posting above, does neither show the atrocious, adjacent concrete monster holding a bell. One has to go and see on the spot to believe it…

    • Hans Van Doorne permalink
      March 16, 2013 11:56 pm

      If it is true that people working for the administration of the City of Gent, and who are paid by the taxpaying inhabitants of Gent, are posting tendentious information about the sheep shed, I would ask to consider to disqualify this project from the contest. This building seems to be founded on lies and deceit.

  5. March 17, 2013 4:12 pm

    Hi Hans, sorry for my late reply. I was travelling with limited access to emails. Thank you very much for taking pictures of the Market Hall for the blog. I did the same last Thursday morning with my own camera, visiting a friend in Ghent. I am curious to see and compare the results. Please send me your pictures at
    Regarding your new comments, I understand and respect your critical point of view, although sometimes it seems not really balanced to me. In the last days I was very surprised by the “success” of this post. The post has been viewed over 5000 times by 2000 visitors in a few days. Most visits came from Belgium where the post went viral through facebook and other social networks. As a result the Market Hall gathered some 1000 votes, much more than the other projects. What is your opinion about it?

    • Yves de Clippele permalink
      March 17, 2013 9:24 pm

      Antonio, prima di tutto grazie per l’initiativa! I find it very useful to have created this website, the more that architectural issues are hardly discussed outside the inner professional circles, despite their huge relevance and impact on culture and daily life in our cities. I am equally puzzled that architectural and urbanistic themes are rarely, if at all, openly debated in politics or during elections. The result can be disastrous as was illustrated in Ghent. If I may express an opinion regarding your last sentence: though I trust there may be some people who indeed appreciate this thing (some on them likely mislaed by the very misleading picture), I’d even more trust that for a well-oiled PR/Communication service as the one of the City of Ghent it is very easy to mobilise and herd several hundreds if not thousands of “sheep” into clicking here for this disaster.

      • March 18, 2013 4:48 pm

        Dear Yves, thank you for your kind words about this blog. As an architect I always tried to promote an open debate on the built environment. First and foremost in my community, now also online. If I understand well you are also an architect, so you will be aware how difficult it is for a building and its designer to get general consensus. I say this obvious thing because now, having clearly expressed your point of view about it, maybe you could think about respecting the opinion of those “sheep” who have different ideas…

    • March 19, 2013 1:18 pm

      The stadshal is an interesting building when considered alone, but totally out of whack with respect to its medieval surroundings.

      It is located in a space that should remain empty and desolate, to enhance the beauty of the medieval building next to it.

      That’s the main problem with the stadshal.

      • April 6, 2013 9:48 am

        Further considerations lead me to believe that the choice for the slanted roof is an attempt to reduce the visual impact on the Belfry.

        Therefore acknowledging that there is a major issue of disproportion here.

      • April 6, 2013 2:17 pm

        Hi Alex, when you say the space should have remained empty to enhance the beauty of the surrounding buildings, I may agree with you. I like emptiness and I think we need more and more of it in our lives full of stuff.
        When you reflect about proportions, that’s a very slippery ground. In my opinion the market hall is well proportioned, in your opinion it isn’t and there is no way to be objective about it. proportions depend on the feeling of balance, on the importance one gives the elements of the composition. And that is highly subjective and controversial. Antonio

  6. hans van doorne permalink
    March 17, 2013 6:17 pm

    Dear Antonio,

    If I had to judge from the pictures, I would vote for the city hall: a nice green lawn and a kind of market hall of a reasonable height in a contrast with a medieval building. As I wrote before: a very good, but tricky picture. The other projects of the contest miss the depth, the colourful touch of the grass and the contrast with an old building.

    Before the city hall was built, drawings and ‘artist’s impressions’ were published. They showed the same false perspective as on the picture of the contest. Some neighbours asked me why I did not react earlier. When they started building high, higher and even more high, I realised I was cheated, but then it was too late to start a complaint.

    I became quite enraged when the newspapers informed about the cutting of the beautiful but endangered and protected Afrormosia-wood.

    I’m not really familiar with facebook and other social networks, but I know that you can reach a huge crowd and mobilize them. For our pre-opening of the sheep shed on August 31 (one day before the official opening) we mobilized roughly 400 people using facebook as well as traditional methods, such as flyers. I suppose that the supporters of the architects, as wel as the city administration are more familiar with these modern communication methods and use them.

    Best regards,


    Verstuurd vanuit Windows E-mail

    Van: Well Designed and Built
    Verzonden: ‎17‎-‎mrt‎-‎13 ‎16‎:‎24
    Onderwerp: [New comment] Five Easy Pieces – Vote Your Favorite One! Antonio Borghi commented: “Dear Hans, I understand and respect your critical point of view, although sometimes it seems not really balanced to me. In the last days I was very surprised by the “success” of this post. The post has been viewed over 5000 times by 2000 visitors in a few”

  7. Örnólfur Hall permalink
    March 19, 2013 11:09 am

    Ö. Hall architect FAI

    — The music- and conferencehouse HARPA in Reykjavik:

    — This building is highly controversial in Iceland and was built in a big haste during financial crisis and one can see that by overviewing the craftmansship.– Many say that it is alien and curious in relation to the town character of Reykjavík. It ist also said that this building is awkward and lacks elegant and soft forms and is inverted regarding to the magnificent view to the sea and the mountains.
    — Icelandic citizens and guests have seen rust in the steelstructure for the glasscover since spring 2010 until now (The rust is a menage due to the salty aired blows from the foaming sea).- In 2010 the south wall (with the glass tinsel) was found to be defective and had to be torn down and built anew.- Poor craftsmanship can be seen in welding and steeljuncture and in e.g. the handrails. One can also see poor looks in the floors surfaces. The concrete are with veiny cracks and miscellanous in colour in some areas. — The stonetiles of the square are in areas uneven and people have been falling and hurting themselves, some badly. — The other day water leaked into the main conserthall through 8 smoke-openings(lids) on the roof (also used for air cleaning) becourse of the odd forgetfulness to close them.

    NB: Nobody seems to know exactly how much this already most expensive building in the history of Iceland costs and it is buried in debt.

    NB: Mies did NOT say: More is less rather did he say: Less is more !

    • March 19, 2013 12:30 pm

      Dear Örnólfur, thank you very much for your comment, although it is a new critical comment! This time critics is towards the project in Reykjavík, by the way the one that, after the Market Hall, has become the highest number of votes! In this case I haven’t seen the project and I am not planning to go there, unfortunately. It would be nice if somebody would post a positive comment. I just found one at the following link on Instagram “”.
      As I noted in my introduction, a positive feature of this award is that the jury will visit the buildings before discussion on the final ranking.
      I hope this post is not going to become a “Cahiers de doléances”! Greeting from Milan! Antonio

  8. Peter Ides permalink
    March 20, 2013 7:56 am

    The Gent Stadshal??? It’s monstrous!!! The people entering it in this competition and /or voting for it probably don’t have to live next to it. It is HUGE, pointless and ugly ! It is a giant piece of concrete and wood destroying several historical panorama’s in our beautifull city.

  9. Örnólfur Hall permalink
    March 20, 2013 9:16 am

    Dear Antonio ! Thank you for your answer. If you sometime come to Reykjavik, I and my colleges and others can show you that things are not always what they seem.

  10. Örnólfur Hall permalink
    March 21, 2013 9:58 am

    HARPA is on investigation:

    The news came today (20/3) from EFTA surveillance Authority ESA : that a investigation opened into certain commercial activities of Harpa.

    The State have shoveld money in to HARPA at the same time it is not helping young people who are losing their homes because of heavy housedebts.

  11. March 26, 2013 10:44 am

    Dear Antonio,

    As an Icelander I am very proud of the Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre and that opinion is shared with most Icelanders, The Harpa has become a significant icon in the capital city of Reykjavik– a visual attraction due to its stunning design with light effects exposed in the facades of the concert building.
    The concert program and conferences is just outstanding in 2013 and very well received both by Icelanders as well as tourists. The Harpa is a great success!

    Please see:

    “The main designers of the Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre are the Icelandic architectural firm Batteríið Architects and the Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen Architects Henning Larsen Architects has gained a reputation for superb design, including the new Opera House in Copenhagen.
    Batteríið Architects have won numerous awards for their design, including the extension for the Icelandic Parliament. The firm works internationally in close cooperation with contractors and renowned architects and engineers in the Nordic countries, North America, and Australia.
    Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson designed the south facade and developed the principle for the remaining north/east/west facades and roof in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects. Elíasson deploys light, colour, and natural phenomena to test how physical movement, sensual engagement, and the interaction of body and brain influence our perception of our surroundings.
    The US consulting firm Artec is responsible for acoustics, sound isolation, and design of the theatre and sound equipment.”

    “The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is part of an extensive harbour development project in Reykjavik, the East Harbour Project. As the name indicates, the overall objective of the project is to expand and revitalise Reykjavík’s eastern harbour with a new downtown plaza, a shopping street, a hotel, residential buildings, educational institutions, and mixed industry. The overall intention is to generate life in the area and to enhance the connection between the city centre and the harbour.
    Situated slightly apart from Reykjavík’s traditional centre, the idea for the building was for it to become a significant icon in the city – a visual attraction due to its stunning design. Harpa´s location means , to a great extent, the changing climatic and light effects will be exposed in the facades of the concert building, often in contrast to the narrow streets in the rest of the city.”

    Eng. Jon Hjaltalin Magnusson

    • March 28, 2013 4:38 pm

      Dear Jon, thank you very much for your comment, the informative quotes and link. This year the Mies van der Rohe Prize has concentrated on iconic and daring projects (last year the focus was on historic buildings renovation) and the Harpa Reykjavík Concert Hall is a very good example. It is not hard to imagine that its original design will attract many visitors thus bringing benefits to the city and the country! Antonio

      • May 2, 2013 11:41 am

        Dear Antonio,
        Thanks for your remarks. All Icelanders but two “outstanding architects” (no names mentioned) are very proud of the the to the architects of Harpa in Reykjavik, which as you say is realy a “daring project” and a great benefit to the capital city and Iceland!

        Well “daring projects” are always discussed and as you remember then the majority of the “educated elite” in Paris, authours, etc. requested the Eiffel Tower not to be built or tored down immediately after the Expo. Well, I do not think they were right! Do you?

        Will ask the architects of Harpa (my dauchter is one of them) to take care of you when you come to Reykjavik and show the building to you and explain all the challenges which had to be met and overcome and especially the excellent sound and light effects inside the concert halls, etc.

        The Harpa concert and conference program for 2013 is just outstanding and very well received both by Icelanders as well as tourists. The Harpa is a great success as witnessed and acknowledged by the jury of the Mies van der Rohe Prize.

    • May 3, 2013 12:40 pm

      Dear Jon, thanks again for the comment and for the invitation! Reykjavik is on my wish list and if I manage I will certainly come back to your offer of a guided tour to the Harpa Concert Hall. That is a good starting point for the west harbor city development! Enjoy this great success (the competitors were quite strong projects as well!) Antonio

      • Hans Van Doorne permalink
        May 5, 2013 8:31 pm

        Dear Antonio,

        I would like to thank you for your effort administrating this blog and for your comments, which were always to the point. I think that the best design has won the contest and I am very happy with this result.

        Best regards; I hope we can meet sooner or later and have a good flemish beer,


      • May 6, 2013 5:22 pm

        Dear Hans, thanks again for your kind comments and messages. Administrating this blog besides my day to day business takes quite some efforts and sleepless hours, but it is rewarding after all. As a matter of fact I happen to visit Belgium quite often and I love Belgian beer! I will drop you a note when I am around. A presto! Antonio

  12. Örnólfur Hall permalink
    April 25, 2013 11:59 pm

    Dear Antonio !

    The Icelandic Construction Authority “Mannvirkjastofnun” has gathered and filed information and pictures of the aforementioned items regarding Harpa. – So did young engineers, in their final year at the UNI, in their studies on the rust.

    In our colleagues‘ (architects’) heads rings master Mies van der Rohes‘ saying: Less is more… less is more.

    The great master, of clean details and pure forms, did not like unclean and clumsy details or impure forms!

    About the view, the direction and the light show:

    Harpa’s main restaurant (on the ground floor) faces NOT north (towards the sea and mountains) but south, where guests can admire the Central Bank Iceland (our poor, wretched money “tank”), the colourful stream of vehicles passing by and the slope of the hill “Arnarhóll”. Which is where very disappointed people stood at the start of the light show in 2011. A journalist (in the newspaper DV) wrote that the light show was like a broken cord of Christmas tree lights. But it progressed and some admirers say that the casinos in Las Vegas should be envious.…/harpa-auka-ljosadyrd-fyrir-200-milljonir/

    • May 2, 2013 9:00 am

      Dear Örnólfur, thanks again for commenting and posting the funny video of the light show. I’m also no friend of light-shows, but if it lasts just an hour or so you can live with it ;-). Now that the Harpa has won the European Architecture Prize are you a little bit happy for your country, your city and your colleagues that became such an prestigious acknowledgement? Or are you staying critical for the mistakes of the project and the way it has been built? Don’t you think the advantages will be greater than the failures? I really hope to visit the Concert Hall one day, maybe in a couple of years, when things will be settled and one can see whether the building and the context work together well. Best wishes! Antonio

      • Örnólfur Hall permalink
        May 7, 2013 10:02 am

        Dear Antonio !

        Tank you for your answer. You master the fine line of neutrality.

        It is with hesitation that I utter felicitation to the winners, also to Att architects strangely now not on the list. — I admire many of the great old danish master works but I am e.g. no admirer of Harpa along with most of my colleagues. – Harpa is a huge controvesial matter in Iceland (even splits families). Ugly is the word that many use(not mine)but admires hover in heavenly circles and throw ugly words at the „bad and ugly“ criticizers.

        Did the judges only talk to the director and the direction in their inspectiontrip? Did they talk to criticizers ?
        Was talked to: artists, guests(also restaurant guests), staff, the disable, craftsmen, technicians, the Construction Authoriy e.c.t. – Are they all with content?
        The claimed fine connection between Harpa and the City is not true. There is a big river of various vehicles (even heavy trucks)and no guiding lights on the crosswalking e.g. from the hill Arnarhóll where turists and others descend from.
        On the news in TV the speaker said (seemingly smiling) that the main lead for the Mies-prize was that Harpa was built in spite of financial crisis.

        NB: Harpa was built in a big hurry to keep the fast engaged final opening-terminal 2011!

        THE DREAD
        Harpa is all buried in a debt. We fear for our poor descendants who will have to pay the huge burden of loans with top-interests for the next 35 years. The huge cost of presevation (keep in repair). The huge (raising) alimentation fee every year(now more than 1 ma). Last month came the sudden need for a extra fee of c.a.70 mill. cronas out of the blue in additon to the many former fees. NB: It is spite of the conserts-money.

        You ask if I am happy for my country, city and the colleagues. – My colleague in Copenhagen tells me that the danish press regards this as a total danish victory. – E.g. nowhere is the icelandic Att – architekurbureau mentioned like it did never paticipate. No… I am not contented with that. Well built building less glamourous (less tinseled) with more elegance in forms would have been more of my content. I repeat my unhappiness due to the uncertainty about Harpa for our descendants.

        MIES van der ROHE
        I wonder what Mies would say about all the works mentioned in his name (if he could speak). I wonder if the time has come to let the Master rest in peace ?

        PS:I have made (with the help of my colleagues) a CD-disk with 170 pictures of the aforementioned items regarding Harpa (e.g. rust (2010-13)& defects). I could send one if you are in favour?

        PS: Two,now outgoing, ministers have asked me for the disk (a new government is now in the birththroes).

        PS: ‚Ghent Market Hall‘ seems to have got seven times more votes than Harpa. How much role did the votes weight in the prize or did they not matter?

        Best regards Örnólfur

  13. Yves de Clippele permalink
    May 6, 2013 9:58 pm

    It is a relief, though no surprise, to learn that the Ghent disaster did not get the price. Apart from breaching any rules of governance, its promoters failed to understand the key message from Mies ven der Rohe: “Less is more”. Meanwhile one will have to endure this terrible scar on the face of a glorious city.

    • May 7, 2013 10:14 am

      Dear Yves, sometimes scar in the face make them more attractive… 😉 May I ask you which contemporary building do you like most in the city center of Ghent? For my next visit and blog post… Have a nice day! Antonio


  1. Stadshal Gent genomineerd door Europese Unie |
  2. Hægt að kjósa Hörpu | Arkitektafélag Íslands
  3. What’s Wrong With The New Market Hall in Gent? | Well Designed and Built
  4. Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre Winner of 2013 Mies Van Der Rohe European Architecture Award | Well Designed and Built

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