Clarenhof

Location

Leermarkt / Muntstraat / Huidevettersstraat / Blaasbalgstraat
Mechelen
Belgium

Year
2014
Surface area
11.759m²
Status
realized
Client
Bouwfonds Property Development Belgium
Orientes
Architecture
  • WIT architecten
Nomination Belgische Prijs Architectuur 2015
Nomination Gilbert Van Schoonbeke Planning Prize
Photography
Toon Grobet

Euroshopping was conceived in the 1970s as an innovative shopping centre, right in the heart of downtown Mechelen. Customers, however, stayed away. The concrete colossus, with 200 shops, a cinema, a party hall, and hundreds of parking spaces, had been empty since the 1980s. In 2001, the city could no longer stand the sight and decided to tackle this case of urban blight. The authorities started by purchasing land and organizing a contest for a public-private partnership.

It was a heated contest.

There were quite some differences of opinion regarding demolition or reconversion of the property. The city ultimately opted for the proposal submitted by POLO Architects and Wit. The fact that they advised to demolish Euroshopping, the ultimate symbol of urban decay in Mechelen, was the deciding factor for the local politicians, although their choice went against the recommendations of the advisory jury.

Semi-public inner courtyard

The urban residential project, designed around a courtyard, offers major added value for the neighbourhood. It is situated on the transition point between the active city centre, with Bruul as the most important shopping street, and quieter residential districts. The surrounding streets all look different. That inspired the design to develop the various building volumes of the Clarenhof courtyard differently in response to the character of the adjoining street. The result is a varied line of buildings facing the street, with a mix of businesses, shops, and housing of several types.

Sixty apartments and thirty houses are arranged around a semi-public inner courtyard. An old waterway has been re-visualized. The inner area can be crossed and connects to the walking routes in the area. The heart of the block provides extra access routes to the houses and the underground car park.

Dialogue with its context

The design plays subtly with the classical hierarchy of the block. Fronts become backs and vice versa. We see characteristic building fronts on the inside, and backs, terraces, and even gardens on the street side. The private green areas on the street side – shielded by walls or fences – play an important role in how the street is perceived. The line of buildings facing the street is more varied and not too hard or closed.

What was once an inaccessible, closed, isolated block that, because of its scale, failed to integrate in the rest of the neighbourhood, has been transformed into a varied, urban residential project that is open to its surroundings. The project engages in a dialogue with the context and forms the transition between the active, commercial city centre and the quiet residential streets around it.

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