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Sergison Bates wins international race for Belgian theatre quarter

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Sergison Bates has seen off 65 other bids to win the international contest to design a €60 million performing arts quarter in Leuven, Belgium

The practice, which recently submitted plans for the £107 million KANAL – Centre Pompidou just 18 miles away in Brussels, is working with Antwerp’s studio eld NV and theatre designer Charcoalblue.

Among the UK entrants to the competition were Caruso St John, DRDH, Tony Fretton, Sam Jacob and Allies and Morrison. The final five-strong shortlist also included Danish practice COBE, Mecanoo, Henning Larsen and Brussels-based Ouest Architecture with Mexico’s Productora.

The scheme forms part of the redevelopment of the former Sint-Pieters Hospital  – a 14-storey double block scheme completed in 1967 – in the heart of Leuven’s medieval city centre.

It features two flexible halls: the largest a 1,000 capacity venue; the smaller capable of seating up to 500 people. 

Mark Tuff, a partner at Sergison Bates’ London office which is leading on the project, said: ‘Since the first stage of the competition, we have been working together to find unique answers to the unique challenges of this project, exploring the boundaries of innovation and flexibility between performance and architecture.

’It’s been an exhilarating journey so far, and we look forward to the next stage.’

According to the practice, the performing arts quarter could open between 2025 and 2027 and will form part of Leuven’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2030.

The architect’s view

The project works with the existing fabric of the 7ha former hospital site, next to the medieval Augustinessen Monastery and Predikheren Church, building upon the character of spaces between the buildings and extending the existing pattern of courtyards to form a network of interlinked spaces. While each has its own character and atmosphere, these spaces are linked by a consistent ground surface of stone pavers that extends into the theatre spaces, dissolving the thresholds between the public realm and the performance spaces. The project adds a new chapter to the story of the site that started in the Middle Ages, building upon the collective memory of the city.

The façades of the new buildings extend the street in a dialogue between familiar forms. A delicately structured glass skin unfolds across the façade, hinting at what is happening behind, inviting visitors’ eyes in before they physically enter the space. The large roof structure, covered in a tight, richly textured metal skin acts as a landmark – a point of orientation that announces the cultural venue. Large roof windows reveal the internal structure and allow high-level daylight into the interior, giving a unique character to the performance space.

The large roof structure will be covered in a tight, richly textured metal skin 

We reimagined the traditional arrangement of theatre venues in a more open, varied, adaptable way of organising spaces in a non-hierarchical, non-directional way. We propose spaces with audacious personalities – the Live Room, the Jardin d’Hiver, the Great Hall, the Yard – spaces directors can take inspiration from, or fight against.

The rooftop, the largest space on the site, is directly connected to the heart of the building by the two cores which organise circulation, stabilise the structure, bring air into the rooms, people up to the roof and ensure acoustic separation between key sensitive spaces. A delicate lattice of metal elements wraps around it and frames views over the city, while a grid of led lights announces the programme.

Together, these spaces make an Open House, a place where there is always something going on, to engage with and be inspired by – a place that is both spatially and socially connected. Although infinitely flexible, our approach to the technical infrastructure is underpinned by a straightforward, rational logic based on low-tech, high-impact solutions.

As with the historic buildings that surround it, the architecture we propose is robust, self-confident and matter-of-fact, carefully put together and almost infinitely adaptable, ready to embrace the known as well as the unexpected.

Performing arts quarter, leuven, north elevation

Performing arts quarter, leuven, north elevation

Project data

Design team: Sergison Bates architects; Charcoalblue; eld NV
Landscape architect Vogt
Heritage consultant Studio Roma
MEP engineer HP Engineering
Structural engineer Mouton
Sustainability consultant
Traffic consultant 
Client Leuven City Council
Overall cost €60 million
Completion 2027

Performing arts quarter, leuven, theatre

Performing arts quarter, leuven, theatre

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