A spectacle of light and shade
With the new construction and the renovation of the existing exhibition building, Francesca Torzo delivers sensory, human architecture tailored to the commissioning client. Far from an example of ‘starchitecture’ Torzo has produced a building that complements the site well while respecting the city. The attention to dimensions, texture and detail, as well as the interdependence with the location make the building special. As Torzo says: “I don't believe in icons, but in listening and observation. And for this building this process started in 2004, on my first visit to Hasselt. I watched, walked, listened and felt the city. The connections between gardens. The leaves of the trees in the garden of the beguinage. The different shades of red of the bricks. The muted light in the city. This building refers to various places or legends in Hasselt, but also to other cultures. That makes the building a dialogue between history and now, ready for the future.
The relationship with the beguinage and Vleugel 58
Torzo studied the history of the site extensively and incorporated it into her design. The seclusion of the beguinage houses, with its series of spaces closed off from the city by a massive wall, is reflected in the new building. The beguinage has always been a place of tranquility within the urban (social) fabric. The new building also functions in this way: on crossing threshold, the visitor is gradually led through a patio with tree and fountain from the bustle of the city to another place. Torzo sees the relationship with the existing exhibition building as a marriage between Vleugel 58, with its direct, vertical layout and the new building Vleugel 19. The exhibition spaces in the old wing are all different – the amount of natural light, the size of the spaces, a room with a curve, a gallery. Torzo’s aim has been to extend this layout in her own way in the new building, enriched with volumes that Z33 did not yet have: a high tower, a wide hall, a long, high passage. The two buildings are different, but complement each other and together form a whole.
Well thought out in every detail
That connection with the past, the existing structures, the associated materials and the love for the craft are essential. Every detail, every material and every positioning has its value and its place in the story that the architect wants to tell. For example, the red colour of the diamond-shaped brick used for the outer wall is not simply a random choice, but is the result of research into the history of brick use in the region. The bare inner walls benefit from a precise grain thickness in order to avoid a smooth, sterile appearance. Sound also plays a role: the fountain brings a serene atmosphere to the patio. The ceilings of different rooms have a diamond-shaped pattern that ensures the right acoustics. Visitors experience the building with all their senses. The variation in exhibition spaces also plays a role in this: one room has no daylight, another is high and narrow, while the next is large and wide, with a view of the garden. Or in Torzo’s words, “The building is an organ of light and shade.”
A house tailored to Z33, a house for Hasselt
Torzo’s building meets Z33’s needs and its DNA. Rather than a white cube art institution she has created a working place for Z33, with spaces where things can develop and take place, where curators and artists can be challenged. The new Z33 will be an open house for the public. The beguinage’s pre-existing function as an oasis of peace in the busy inner city is reinforced: the new Z33 will act as a place to take one’s time and be present, for research, watching and learning, a place where everyone is welcome. And that starts on Saturday 14 March, with an opening weekend full of exhibitions, performances, children's activities, film and a big party.