When Mechelen city council took the decision in 2012 to use the former Dominican monastery (Predikherenklooster) as a public library, it approached the Flemish Government Architect and his team. The council’s purpose was to activate this area on the borders of the city centre. At the heart of their plans lay the future library and the neighbouring Dossin Kazerne. Korteknie Stuhlmacher Architecten in association with Callebaut Architecten and Bureau Bouwtechniek were chosen by means of the Open Call procedure. One of the reasons given by the jury was that they were the only team to position the reading room in the attic. This left plenty of freedom to house other elements of the library on the courtyard and in the cloisters and church. The impressive wooden roof structure defines the interior of the reading room: the bookcases have been positioned so that all parts of the structure remain visible. On top of the existing roof they installed a self-supporting steel version that complies with present-day safety and insulation standards, but which cannot be seen from within the building. Previous alterations to the roof inspired the addition of new dormer windows and skylights that flood the attic with light. Although the roof is entirely new, it is emphatically not intended to contrast with what was already there, but to enhance its quality.
The decision to avoid deliberately seeking out contrast also guided the approach to the other floors. The designers were enchanted by the beauty of the dilapidation caused by decades of abandonment and the changes made to the monastery building over the centuries. As a result, the ruin became the starting point for their design. They do not loudly claim authorship of its present state, therefore, but added an extra layer that makes its mark on what already existed. The furnishings play a major role in this. From the entrance to the ‘studiolo’ in the attic, the panelling, tables and bookcases are modest and well-chosen and bring unity to the whole,. They enable contemporary technical installations to be integrated without affecting the floors or ceilings. In addition, the colour of the furnishings underpins the drawing together of the colours of the ruin and the new modifications, which intensifies the interweaving of the historical layers and the contemporary additions. The tactility and dimensions of the furniture means they also play a leading part in adapting the monumental building to a human scale.
The designers themselves say that the project is indebted to the weiterbauen, a design attitude that takes history as its guiding principle in the transformation of buildings. Yet there is more than this going on in the Predikheren: the designers have deliberately used several strategies in combination when dealing with what already existed. Gentle restoration, cleaning and conservation, above all of the ruinous parts, are harmoniously interwoven with intensive restoration and contemporary additions. For example, they opted to clean the external façades only softly, while those on the courtyard were returned to their original state in a much more radical manner. The flexibility with which the architects switch between the different strategies is inspired by their view of what needs to be retained: the process of accumulation of historical layers and the sense of erosion rather than one particular moment in the history of the building.
- Sofie De Caigny
This project is published in Flanders Architectural Review N°14. When Attitudes Take Form
Rectification: In the publication Flanders Architectural Review N°14. When Attitudes Take Form (2020), only Korteknie Stuhlmacher Architects are mentioned in the project data. The correct mention of the architects is: Korteknie Stuhlmacher Architecten in collaboration with Callebaut Architects and Bureau Bouwtechniek.
Public Building, Culture
Goswin de Stassartstraat 88