Collaboration: Vanessa Denayer
Photos: Tim Van de Velde
Architect: Matador Architects, Brüssel
Location: B–7000 Mons, 4 rue des Soeurs Noires
Although the addition may seem simple, its effect is significant. The historical townhouse has taken on a new wing that provides a note of contrast in both material and colour. Its airy steel construction extends over the entire length of the lot. The transitional area forms a public courtyard and communication zone between old and new. The new construction can be seen only from the rear of the lot, but there it juts assertively over the old wall and attracts a certain amount of attention. Its large window allows views in and out. It also acts as a bulletin board offering information about current activities going on inside the design centre.
The complex is home to diverse institutions such as offices and labs for young entrepreneurs and other creative types, as well as space for exhibitions, conferences and events. Continuing the design concept of the stone walls of the main building, which are painted partly in white, the architects chose a shell of white expanded-metal panelling. These are semi-transparent and can be adjusted by visitors. The effect is not only an active façade for the half-open connection, but ever-changing views of the new building, courtyard and old house. While the outer appearance of the old building was to be preserved, the architects restructured and changed the interior in order to create bright, fluid interior spaces. Smaller spaces became offices; larger ones were transformed into conference and event areas.
The purpose of the title Capital of European Culture is, above all, to draw people into these cities with cultural events and to promote culture in general. In Mons, this has indisputably led to great changes. Not only did Daniel Libeskind recently design a congress centre which evokes a ship’s bow run aground, but five new museums have opened as well. The House of Design is only one component of an overarching concept, but one that shows once more how architecture can influence cities, culture and people, improving urban spaces with the skilful approaches for enclosed spaces.