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Ghent Barracks Transformed into New City Hub

11 June 2024

Repurposing historic sites within cities is a current architectural trend, and a project in Ghent provides a prime example, with the transformation of the renowned Leopold Barracks. Works commenced in 2019 to repurpose this space into a mixed use scheme for living, life, and experience. Occupation by a variety of users began in March 2023.


The site comprises a mix of buildings, encompassing residential units, a city hotel, several townhouses, and a new central provincial government building. A green courtyard is at the heart of the scheme, the former parade square having been transformed into an urban neighbourhood park, accessible from the surrounding streets.


The master plan was drawn up by architecture firms B2Ai Architects, 360 Architects and Sergison Bates Architects. They collaborated with DELVA Landscape Architects (for the private gardens) and Buro landschap (for the courtyard), while the project development was undertaken by Ciril, Matexi and Democo.


The site consists of a mix of buildings, framing the greenery. This is building B, renovated into flats, seen from the inner park in progress.


Central sunken patio

To gain further insight into the project, we contacted B2Ai architects, which not only contributed to the architectural scheme, but was also responsible for the interior design of the communal areas. Senior Project Architect Sandra Ghesquiere explains more about this significant intervention in Ghent's urban landscape.


"In 2015, we were asked by the Province of East Flanders Buildings Department, to submit a design that reflected a forward-thinking vision of vital urban functions such as multi-generational living, green space, the city’s cultural realm and sustainable tourism. Our collaborative design, featuring a central sunken patio, was selected by the client to serve as the focal point of this condensed urban hub, where each function will complement the others for generations to come. The former enclosed barracks will now operate as an open county hall and a new city hub," she explains.


The new entrance in the perimeter wall of the house behind.


The Leopold Barracks boasts a rich history, and this was meticulously taken into account in its redevelopment. Originating from the early 19th century, the barracks were initially part of a Dutch citadel erected to defend Ghent against Napoleon's armies. Later, the citadel was replaced by the expansive Citadelpark, now home to various cultural institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, the SMAK and the ICC, among others.


The barracks themselves, designed by architects Modeste de Noyette and Otto Geerling between 1890 and 1905, accommodated around 1,300 military personnel and were noted for their romantic, eclectic style. They covered an area of over 2 hectares and housed around 1,300 military personnel at the time. From late October 1955, the Leopold Barracks was staffed by the Health Service Centre (CGD), the core of what would later become the Royal School of the Medical Service.


Crucible of urban functions

"The entire site is included in the architectural heritage inventory, but it was in urgent need of a new, sustainable use. Such a defensive stronghold needed to be transformed into an inviting meeting point for everyone, leading us to radically redefine the Leopold Barracks' original function," Ghesquiere continues. "The end result is a melting pot for all urban functions."


In the interior, the old, characterful elements were preserved (here, a photo in the stairwell building B). Existing pointed arches, cast-iron staircases and arched vaults were taken into account.


"Looking at the master plan, one immediately notices the transformation of the once-closed military complex into an open space accessible from all sides. Besides the former main entrance to Parade Square (hotel side), the perimeter wall will be opened up into four additional places (housing side) to give access to the enclosed inner area from the surrounding streets. Additionally, a passage will be established through the new provincial government building on the southern side.


All structures and open areas are integrated into neighbourhood life, with the former square now transformed into a community park, intended to foster informal and spontaneous interactions.


The residential program includes approximately 80 flats across two buildings, each sharing a communal garden with ground-level residences. These compact terraced houses feature street-level entrances, enhancing their connection to the surroundings. Work and living spaces, a nursery, studios, and a boutique hotel are also part of the development. Central to the inner garden is a sunken patio around which the studios and workshops of the Province's multifunctional underground space have been located.


Approach to interior common parts

At the same time, it is interesting to take a look at how the interiors of the common parts of the privatised buildings were approached. Here, too, it is clear how much consideration was taken of the original building, within the fire engineering requirements: "We strove to preserve the old, characterful elements in the buildings and thus took account of the existing pointed arches, cast-iron staircases and arched vaults. Where new additions were needed, we reverted to natural materials, namely wood. We used this both for the stairs on the top floor and for the glazed door frames. We kept the existing red bricks and red tiles in the corridors as much as possible and repaired them where necessary. The new lighting was chosen to be as unobtrusive as possible. It involves very fine, black line lighting, partly vertical at stair level and horizontally next to the stairs."


Image taken in the courtyard to be constructed between Building B and the new houses behind the Barracks wall.


Visual link with Citadel Park

The Charles de Kerckhovelaan, which has a gross floor area of 57,600 m², can be thought of as the 'head' of the complex. The perimeter wall has been largely opened up, providing access to the new provincial government building via an inner garden and establishing a visual connection with Citadel Park. This Provinciehuis consists of a reception area and cafeteria, various administrative departments, meeting rooms, logistical services, archives, depot and parking facilities, totaling 30,000 m², which may also be accessible to third parties.The complex will be delivered in several phases.


The first phase of flats was completed in March 2023, followed by the Province House in the second half of 2023, and the hotel is scheduled for commissioning in mid-2024.


The residential units were provided with terraces, here you look out on the central park yet to be constructed between the buildings.

All pictures © Sandra Ghesquiere (B2Ai)

Originally written by Jan Hoffman

Ghent Barracks Transformed into New City Hub
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