An international team has submitted its scheme to convert a 1930s garage into a £107 million ‘cultural city’
Plans have been submitted for a massive £107 million ‘cultural city’ in Brussels by Sergison Bates, Swiss practice EM2N and Belgian firm noAarchitecten.
The team won the project for the KANAL – Centre Pompidou early last year. They will convert an Art Deco Citroën garage into a 40,000m2 multipurpose museum, gallery and atelier workspace focusing on contemporary art and architecture.
The practices, which have set up a 14-strong joint project office (Atelier Kanal) within the 1930s garage building, saw off an impressive shortlist of firms which included Caruso St John, 6a, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and OMA.
The scheme is being delivered in partnership with the KANAL Foundation and the famous Paris-based Centre Pompidou together with the Development Corporation of the Brussels-Capital Region. Although retaining much of the garage’s existing fabric, the scheme will insert three new volumes: a 11,300m2 museum of modern and contemporary art; Brussels’ architecture centre (Centre International pour la Ville, l’Architecture et le Paysage); and the ‘Rassembleur’, a multifunctional space to be used as an auditorium or for workshops or exhibitions.
The team said it had honed its contest-winning proposals following a temporary exhibition, Kanal Brut, held within the garage. The show, which runs until June, is effectively the precursor to the wider overhaul, giving the public the chance to ‘discover this mythical building in its raw state’ before it closes in 2021. The revamped centre will re-open in 2023.
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Q+A with Stephen Bates, co-founder, Sergison Bates
What does this project mean to you as a practice?
It is a career-defining moment to be working on it. As a practice we have built up to this point. In the UK, we are still tending to be given the opportunities to work on complicated, rich, exemplar schemes, but not on projects of this scale. The collaboration is very important – as it was for every team – it is simply too big for us to do on our own.
I can connect KANAL back to our very early 1997 studio building for Cartlidge Levene in Clerkenwell where we worked with the found situation.
Have you found anything unexpected as you’ve worked on the scheme?
The garage is the size of two football pitches and it is constantly surprising me as we pick through the layers dating back to the 1930s. Every time I go I break into a smile.
What have been your design inspirations for the project?
Tate Modern is a natural reference point. At KANAL we want the galleries to feel like raw, found spaces. We don’t want there to be a contrast between the rough garage and the ‘white box’. We want a soft relationship between the new, nearly new, old and very old.
The roof is like a cloud. It is an extraordinary thing. We are happy to do as little as we can to it. We know we have to replace the glass and add insulation but with the steel finish we hope we can just brush it and leave it. We hope to keep as much as possible.
Meanwhile, we will reinforce the primary routes that follow the existing cross-axis figure, which we have called street and nave.
The travelators proposed at competition stage have been removed to ensure there is no compromise to the existing atmosphere of ramps and platforms, while existing stairs located around the building have been kept where possible.
How have you tailored the spaces to accommodate different artworks?
There are effectively three climate zones, ranging from the absolute full control in the galleries to the garage where there will be much less.
The current Kanal Brut exhibition programme has allowed us to witness at first-hand how the building is being used and how visitors behave and react to the space and the work. It has become a live testbed. Currently, visitors in winter get given a blanket, while in summer it is extremely hot. So we will make the garage space more comfortable.
But it [has been decided] that it is acceptable not to climate-control the garage space too much and keep it naturally ventilated. It will be less controlled than Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Visitors will probably keep their coats on.
This space is not just about displaying objects. It’s about performance art, large installations, architectural pavilions. Rachel Whiteread’s art could easily work in the garage.
At KANAL you can go to make something as much as see something. An ambition of the design is to emphasise the [visibility of] the workshop and atelier spaces. The production sits side by side with the artwork.
What has been your approach to sustainability?
It is fundamental to our work. Our view is very holistic, looking at the economic, longevity and community as well as the [material]. It isn’t a purely a scientific discipline.
Here we want to concentrate our new energy into the three main elements while doing as little as possible to the main garage spaces. Yet the scheme must still meet the demands of a 21st-century gallery, in terms of temperature.
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