Skip to content

What’s Wrong With The New Market Hall in Gent?

March 26, 2013

Great weather during my recent visit to Gent. Being careful not to slip on frozen snow, the day was ideal for a walk around the city centre and its heavily discussed new building: the Market Hall (or if you prefer the “sheep shed”) by Robbrecht en Daem, just between Saint Nicholas’ Church  and the World Heritage building Belfry (Belfort Van Gent).

I arrived by train and walked into the city centre, quite curious to see how this new building would fit into the historic context, but my attention and thoughts were also open to other buildings, places and impressions, having a look to the peculiar eclectic train station, new highrise being built on its side and the huge amount of bikes parked all around the station, including under the trees of the square in front of it.

ghent_01

ghent_02

ghent_03

ghent_04

ghent_05

ghent_07

Arrived in this long rectangular square (Kouter) I had a look at the city map, discovering that the historic centre has been “divided” in two for the visitors convenience: one part is where the most historic buildings are; the second where the most museums are.  This is part of the new orientation system which includes also useful and frequent sightseeing signposts along the streets.
ghent_06

Looking at the yellow building I was wondering what an average heritage preservation officer would nowadays think about this colour and its relationship with the surrounding buildings. Somehow we tend to think about the past as a homogeneous pattern, meanwhile it is true that also back then, like today, some people/cultures liked to emerge and differentiate, meanwhile others preferred to disguise differences behind a standard front.

ghent_09

ghent_10

ghent_11

ghent_12

ghent_13

Here we go!  Finally I reach the indicted and nominated building. My first reaction is: is that all? What’s wrong with it?

ghent_14

Even at a shorter distance, there is nothing offending any sense of proportion or heritage prescriptions in this building. Materials, colours and architectural  shape are nothing but an interpretation of the historic context. You may find it a good or a bad one, but screaming at the scandal is not really the case.

ghent_15

The relationship between the two levels of the buildings and the green space in front of them somehow recall the original idea of building there a car parking. Even though the idea of the parking was cancelled, the lower level recalls the entrance to something underground, whereas today there is just a tiny café.

ghent_31

That is a weak point: having two levels in such a square must have some serious reason or at least a functional role. There might be one in this case, but this is not evident to me. By the way the green railing could have been lighter and nicer than that.

ghent_17

This bell could also be housed somewhere else: in the middle of the square, under the roof or in the basement. This is far too near to the Church and the concrete structure to support it rather pointless. This must be the result of some compromise and the Market Hall itself would benefit from its removal.

ghent_18

ghent_19

The space under the roof is great and I can imagine a lot of different ways to use it. But then again, regarding materials and details, the inner skin in tropical wood with the scattered little openings  and the two couples of rails on each side, altogether they disturb the perception of space. On the contrary the glass tiles on the outside provide a very nice double skin effect, reflecting the sky above.

ghent_20

In any case the Market Hall is not the only peculiar building around. Below the Town Hall which was partly built between 1519 and 1539 in “flamboyant” late gothic style and later completed in a redundant Renaissance style. I don’t remember to have ever seen any black painted columns with golden capitals before.

ghent_21

ghent_22

Here you see that the Market Hall does cover the view towards the Saint Nicholas Church, but that is no problem, since the church has many other open fronts and cathedrals were never meant to stay on greenfield. On the contrary the new architectural language makes the historic surrounding more lively and interesting, mitigating the museums feeling you have when walking through the perfectly preserved city centres in northern Europe. ghent_23

ghent_24

ghent_29

ghent_34

ghent_25

ghent_27

As a matter of fact Gent is home of treasures of inestimable value of Flemish culture. The Saint Bavo Cathedral is a gothic church with renaissance and barock decoration, hosting the famous Altarpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, an amazing polyptych panel painting of the early XV Century which is alone worth the trip.

800px-Retable_de_l'Agneau_mystique_(7)

This is the central panel giving the name to the 12 panel composition, which are painted on both sides. Some of them are currently in restoration, one was stolen and replaced by a copy.

ghent_37

ghent_38Goodbye Gent!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 2:15 pm

    Once again your review does *not* express the main issue: the market hall is too close to the Belfry.

    a typical picture is [1], once again it does not show the relationship with the Belfry.

    here is what you write:

    “Even at a shorter distance, there is nothing offending any sense of proportion or heritage prescriptions in this building. Materials, colours and architectural shape are nothing but an interpretation of the historic context. You may find it a good or a bad one, but screaming at the scandal is not really the case.”

    If you had lived in Gent, you would have known how the place was before.

    “The relationship between the two levels of the buildings and the green space in front of them somehow recall the original idea of building there a car parking. Even though the idea of the parking was cancelled, the lower level recalls the entrance to something underground, whereas today there is just a tiny café.”

    I wouldn’t call that a “tiny café”.

    In other words, I’m afraid I have to say that your blog of your visit to Gent is far from accurate. You haven’t know the time when the place was just an open space (and not even the time when it was used as a parking lot.) This is a missed opportunity to introduce emptiness in a city centre.

    Looking at your photographs, I was also striken by the ugliness that you managed to capture. Even the bell has been photographed such that one cannot see its issue with the St Niklaaskerk. You should have taken some time to view the Belfry towards the east and note how the market hall blocks that view: it is a very well known view, but you have to live in Gent to be aware of that.

    [a] https://welldesignedandbuilt.com/2013/03/26/whats-wrong-with-the-new-market-hall-in-gent/
    [1] https://welldesignedandbuilt.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/ghent_15.jpg

    • April 1, 2013 4:12 pm

      Hi Alex, thank you for reading my post so carefully and using your time to write a comment. I appreciate that. You are certainly right when you say my visit is not accurate. As said at the beginning I did not want to concentrate too much in the market hall. There are so many interesting things around and I was there only a couple of hours. That is far from accurate and far from looking at these places like the people of Gent. I find very interesting your argument about “missed opportunity to introduce emptiness in a city centre”. That is a good point: emptiness makes that kind of contrast and surprise I like very much in dense urban fabrics. Your remark makes me think that the most interesting feature of the market hall is to introduce a new void in the existing void. The space under the roof is large and surprising, enclosed and open at the same time. That is the essence of my positive feeling about it.
      When you say that the market hall is blocking the view to the Belfry, I don’t understand. Actually I don’t how it was before and being there I don’t see this missing link.
      Antonio

  2. April 1, 2013 7:21 pm

    [1] shows what one ought to see of the Belfry from the Donkersteeg (looking east). [2] is what one sees now.

    About voidness… the misery of this market hall is that it is TOO HIGH. It is out of proportion with respect to the site it is embedded in. his has nothing to do with emptiness. It is blocking views.

    There is something I don’t understand: you write “As said at the beginning I did not want to concentrate too much in the market hall. There are so many interesting things around and I was there only a couple of hours.” But your article heads “What’s Wrong With The New Market Hall in Gent?” …

    [1] https://maps.google.com/?ll=51.05425,3.723614&spn=0.001517,0.003385&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.05425,3.723614&cbp=12,0,,0,0&photoid=po-2445528
    [2] http://www.flickr.com/photos/38700906@N02/8583049318/in/photostream/

  3. April 2, 2013 6:04 am

    Hi Alex, yes, the title is about the market hall, but the article is about how cities (and also historic centres) are made of different things, buildings from different ages and people with different opinions. It is interesting to note that buildings erected for some purposes change their meaning over time and they will continue to do so. The story of the Colosseum in Rome is exemplary. I can imagine that at the time of its erection the Belfry, like most high-rise buildings, appeared a symbol of power and seal of oppression of the happy few sponsors against the poor people who finally had to pay for it with their sweat and blood. I can also imagine a lot of citizens of Gent complaining for the Belfry taking away a piece of view out of their window or even some hours of sunlight. Every new building in a dense environment has collateral effects we have to live with.
    I think engagement in public debate about the built environment is very important and must be welcomed (therefore I placed the poll in my post about the Mies Van Der Rohe Prize). Nevertheless we are all very busy and life is so complicated, we have to be selective!

  4. April 2, 2013 6:36 am

    not convincing. the belfry was erected to protect the city documents from war.

    this is not a case of a piece of “some view from the window” by some people. you are trying to hide the issue between other issues. there were better alternatives for this project.

    and not every building in a dense environment has collateral effects we have to live with. tadao ando made great buildings that do not have collateral damage.

  5. Jeroen permalink
    April 19, 2013 7:44 pm

    The real question is :when will it be removed?
    regardless of cost and pride…
    They should have taken a real architect and respected the citizens of Ghent. The stupid ones were in charge. The citizens of Gent weren’t.
    I call it the pigeon hole. It will attract hundreds of birds and leave behind the essence of this ego monster: shit

    Jeroen
    ( geboren in de ene weba en getogen in den anderen)

    • April 22, 2013 10:21 am

      Hi Jeroen, I can’t understand where you were born, but this hardly can give you any right to call stupid anyone… Insults apart I don’t see the point of your criticism, but I thank you anyway for stopping by! Antonio

  6. Steph permalink
    April 22, 2013 8:57 am

    As a citizen of Ghent I don’t share the feeling of being disrespected. I love the view (from every angle), the size and the materials used. Public use of the place is great and works as well as an alternative “flat open space”. When I cross the city with my (very) young kids, I love stopping in the small garden on the lower level where they can run for a while before moving on (where else can they do that without being run over by a tram/taxi or bike?). Did you cross the city hall when street musicians are playing music? Did you hear the sound of a violin, a simple guitar, and how well it sounds? Where does it sound as well? Did you notice the fire pit in the city Hall, to be used by us? How “bad” or “stupid” can an architect be to take care of that? Have a look around in the city, even in direct periphery of 150 meters, how much “ugly-ness” do you see “unnoticed” because we get used to ugly and unusable spaces around us, and no one is protesting.

    • April 22, 2013 10:45 am

      Hi Steph, I appreciate your calm and balanced comment after many points of harsh criticism. During my very short visit I had also the impression of such a public space, open for different users and urban practices. I didn’t hear any music there, I wish I could! I heard about the fire pit, but it was not in use. I really wonder how will that work! If you like it or not I think any citizen in Gent has the possibility to make something original and useful out of this building. It’s true, ugliness belongs to urban space and I have no problem with it as long as people use the space. The ugliest spaces are the ones no-one uses or care about. Have a nice day and enjoy your beautiful city! Antonio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: