A design that chooses the city
If you understand architecture as a gesture that puts differences into the world in a compelling way, then this building is an extreme example of architecture.
Wing 19 is the new exhibition building of Z33, House for Contemporary Art, Design & Architecture. In it, Italian architect Francesca Torzo puts forward strong ideas about the nature and positioning of architecture itself. In addition, the building responds to the existing context, with Wing 58, the Jenever Museum and the adjoining beguinage. The result is a building that challenges visitors, curators and artists. They do not get virginal white boxes, but spaces with a distinct character. This makes the building a gift, not only to the art that will be housed there, but also to the visitors and the city.
In the past 17 years, the former beguinage and its exhibition space Wing 58 have been occupied by Z33. The house has grown into an art institution with international recognition. The thematic exhibitions often provide a platform for artists and designers who are on the verge of a breakthrough. Around 2010, it became clear that there was a need for a space that would better fulfil these ambitions. However, the location in the city did not make it easy to find a solution.
Z33 chose the proposal by Italian architect Francesca Torzo, whose concept is inextricably linked to the surrounding urban fabric. Torzo encountered a city with a succession of passages and courtyards. She understood who lived here before us and who will live here after us. The space to walk in Hasselt was translated into a dizzying spatial complexity. This play of walls, thresholds and vistas draws your attention in a penetrating way to architecture's ability to direct your perception and experience.
Most striking is the façade on Bonnefantenstraat, the future main entrance to the building, which is almost completely closed, apart from a single small incision in a large, unbroken wall. The bricks used have an unusual diamond shape in deep purple, reddish hues. This statement forced Torzo to do a lot of thinking. The result is like a puzzle piece falling into place between Wing 58, the beguinage, the gin museum and the houses further down the street.
This project offers real architecture for exhibiting art, rather than suppressing it in a lavishly decorated building.
Wing 19 offers an amazing range of spatial experiences. This is due to the remarkable differences in the width, height and length of the rooms, but also to the way in which they merge into one another. On the first floor of the new building, there is one large room, with a far-reaching view of the existing wing. The relief in the ceiling here has an undulating movement that follows the irregular floor plan of the rooms. The experience offered by the building is not only visual, but also offers strong tactile and spatial sensations. This complexity is entirely architectural and not hindered by references, excessive technology, etc. Because of the many transitions, differences in light, etc., the building also feels like a miniature city, an analogy for the space of the beguinage itself, with its succession of increasingly smaller spaces. This architecture runs counter to the style of recent buildings that look spectacular on the outside but inside the actual exhibition spaces are simply white boxes. Wing 19 cannot be fully understood without knowing its context.
Photography Olmo Peeters