0138 Wintercircus Mahy

The Wintercircus of Gent has, as a public venue, a long and complex history within the city of Gent. In 2005 the building was purchased by the urban-development company Sogent. The company’s goal was to renovate the building in a way that honors its rich architectural heritage. Atelier Kempe Thill in collaboration with aNNo architects won this competition an proposed the following strategy.The former circus space, so enormous it compares to a public square in terms of size, was the first main design issue. Instead of filling it with a program or additional structural volume, our team suggested to keep it the way it was: utterly empty. It is meant to serve in the future as flexible public space, as a kind of canopied square for all kinds of activities, connecting three faces of the city and the new De Krook library building on Platteberg. This step has lent the building its backbone, its authenticity, along with a sense of relaxed generosity, while maintaining the sensational feeling of discovering its monumental magnitude upon entering the space. The second issue deals with the acoustically challenging rock concert hall. This was realized underground in a building-within-a-building construction of reinforced concrete, directly under the main round circus building. The idea was to avoid even the smallest acoustic leak into the neighboring structures and also to completely separate the necessary logistical measures from the rest of the building. The third issue was about the finish level of the surfaces after renovation. We decided to keep it the way we found it: the raw appearance of the unplastered brick walls and of the big atrium space with some of its plaster fallen off over the years of dilapidation, as well as the red concrete floor. This bringsFor the design team Atelier Kempe Thill + aNNo, the Wintercircus project is prescient example of a consistent course of action in restoring a historical monument: a situational design. The special focus here was on the modest role of the architect and the sensitive approach to protecting the structure’s generous spatial qualities, and their transformation, in order to welcome new use. The result is to be viewed not as a “highly polished” project, but rather as an act of preservation, with the factors of time and decay being part of a romantic interpretation of a building that arose through a complicated historical process. Hence, the “curated decay” approach follows the ideas about restoring historical buildings put forward by John Ruskin.The raw nature of Wintercircus is part of a growing contemporary taste for rough-hewn, unfinished sites originating from subcultures. This tendency can be seen as a subconscious desire to eschew ongoing domestication, digital dominance, and an immaculately planned and tidy environment in favor of reviving and celebrating the wild, the tactile, and the spontaneous. a certain rawness and unfinished character to the project and has preserved the patina of its historical development and, ultimately, of its decay.

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