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Robbrecht and Daem architects

In July 2006, the Flemish Government Architect issued an open call, with which the restoration of the Boekentoren became the subject of an international architectural competition. Ghent University chose the design by Robbrecht and Daem architects from the fifty participating offices. It was the highlight of a successful campaign to save the neglected monument that the Boekentoren had become. Head librarian Sylvia Van Peteghem, Antwerp property developer André Singer and the Monuments Controversy (2007) TV programme had made the restoration of the Boekentoren – Van de Velde’s masterpiece – highly topical.

Established in 1975, Robbrecht and Daem architects has supervised the restoration since 2007. Their track record includes numerous cultural commissions, such as the Concert Building in Bruges. At the same time, they also prize the architecture of collection-managing institutions: the Felixpakhuis in Antwerp, the City Archives of Bordeaux and the State Archives of Ghent are part of their portfolio. In their renovation assignments, they enter into a dialogue with the work of great modernists such as Victor Horta (BOZAR, Brussels, 2016), Marcel Breuer (De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam, 2013), Boris Iofan (Udarnik Cinema, Moscow, 2014) and Charles Harrison Townsend (Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2009). With the Boekentoren (and Villa Landing in Astene, 2015), Henry van de Velde has joined this prestigious list.

The following motto applies in their restoration projects: ‘change a lot to change nothing at all’. With discreet, almost invisible interventions, they transform a monument into a modernised blueprint of its original.

The technical feat of concrete restoration is invisible in the revitalised Boekentoren. Its modern climate control features are seamlessly integrated and the new underground depot is nowhere to be seen: it rests under the carefully restored Quiet Garden. The restoration by Robbrecht and Daem architects has brought the building to itself, and the details have been highlighted even more: the black marble portico lines around the doors, for example. The meticulous restoration to the original plans has made the Boekentoren even more van de Velde. New works of art by Dirk Braeckman and Berlinde de Bruyckere do not replace the Gustave de Smet, Frits van den Berghe and Constant Permeke envisioned by the architect in the 1930s, but establish new connections between art and architecture.

The Robbrecht and Daem office building has won several international prizes and nominations, including the Mies van der Rohe Award (2013) for the Stadshal in Ghent (‘City Hall’).

Robbrecht en Daem

Robbrecht en Daem

By Michiel Hendryckx, license CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0

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