Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Vliet Museum in Mechelen, Belgium by OKRA Landscape Architects
January 24th, 2014 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: OKRA Landscape Architects
The IJzerenleen is a well-known, broad street in the town centre, enclosed by the town hall and the River Dijle. The IJzerenleen is commonly known as the ‘Champs Elysées’ of Mechelen. It accommodates several famous commercial enterprises such as Windels, Damart, chemist shop ‘t Verguld Schaap and the famous cheese shop Schockaert and the former town hall houses a small museum.
The IJzerenleen is the former brook from the 16th century that drains to the Dijle. This brook was culverted and used as a fish market. The town’s goal is to make the canalised brook underneath the IJzerenleen publically accessible and use it to accommodate a museum about the history of the brooks of Mechelen. Thereby it becomes a unique part of Mechelen and recently, recovery works have been performed, to recover the vault. For this, the space needs to be made damp-proof and watertight in order to be deemed a safe space for the public to access. Ventilation has to be in place and lighting has to be added, the entrance and exit also need to be handled in an architecturally qualitative way. To expose the brook and the vault to the tourists in a safe way, lots of work is necessary.
By transforming the vault underneath the IJzerenleen into a museum space in the centre of Mechelen, the old brook and part of the history of Mechelen are again exposed. The legislative history of the IJzerenleen is illustrative and at the same time forms a starting point for the new museum. Arching over the brook isn’t the product of just one intervention, but an evolved construction. The museum space underneath the IJzerenleen exposes this evolution.
The original, natural brook that was underneath what we now know as the IJzerenleen. Firstly, the brook was used as a harbour, but during the course of time there was an increasing need for a market place in the town centre. The culverted further. The construction was adjusted to the desires of the moment based on functional arguments. This also applies to the transformation of the vault into a shelter during World War 2. The brook under the vault was drained and sewerage was added. The vault was divided into nine consecutive shelters, separated by means of pressure bulkheads.
In the transformation of the canalised brook into a museum space, highlights the history of the IJzerenleen is the starting point for the design. The IJzerenleen is situated on the museum axis of Mechelen. This “Champs Elysées” lies in the extension of the Hoogstraat. Together, the streets form a town radius. The Hoogstraat is redecorated with a clear lining throughout the entire profile. The public area of the Ijzerenleen already has a beautiful and qualitatively good decoration by itself and will get a clear relation to the Hoogstraat.
The museum axis is characterised by a sequence of special moments: the gate of Brussels, the Ganzendries, the Korenmarkt, the Grootbrug and the former town hall as finishing point. The Vliet Museum on the IJzerenleen forms a new moment on the museum axis. Although the space is firstly designed as a museum that can only be accessed with a city guide, on the long term we would like to see the museum evolve into a full worthy public museum. A space for the town, its inhabitants and visitors, that tells a story about the past.
To accentuate the length of the brook and the museum we suggest an optimal use of the available space by designing an opening at the beginning and the end of the brook. Both entrances have the same size and therefore are equal.
By interpreting the entrances as a trapdoor, a metaphor for the opening of the basements of the houses in the vicinity and by not making a construction in the public area, the intervention is subtle. Because of the size and scale of the shutters and the effect the shutters have on the public area when the museum is opened, the entrances to the museum will be spectacular. A beautiful contradiction that portrays the relationship between the aerial and underground world of the town.
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