21.3.2014

Govaert & Vanhoutte Architects wins a second Civic Trust Award in the United Kingdom

After a first recognition with an Award & a special award’ in 2011, Govaert & Vanhoutte Architects now again brings in one of the British Civic Trust Awards with the project ‘Rampart Route Ypres’.

As the only Belgian architects, Benny Govaert and Damiaan Vanhoutte position themselves next to about thirty eminents such as C.F. Møller, Henning Larsen Architects, J. Mayer H., Wilkinson Eyre Architects and the young, but renowned Studio Weave.

The Civic Trust Awards, founded in 1959, is part of the two years earlier established charity organization Civic Trust of England. Next to the RIBA-awards of the leading Royal Institute of British Architects, the annually Civic Trust Awards is practically the oldest and most important award ceremony for the built environment of Great-Britain and Europe. The unique character of these Awards lies in the recognition of stringent, striking and innovative architecture, urbanism, landscape design and infrastructure making a difference for the public domain in the broad sense, in particular for the local inhabitants and the society. The 2014 edition digested international submissions from Antarctica to (New) Zealand.

The throughout all wars uniquely preserved stronghold site of Ypres has been successfully revitalized by some acupunctural interventions thanks to the Bruges based architecture firm Govaert & Vanhoutte. The five connected subterrains behind Saint-Jacob’s church next to the Menin Gate have been constructed in 1685 by the stronghold engineer of Louis XIV: Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, responsible, for one, for the UNESCO protected citadel of Bezançon. The subterrains –popularly abusively designated as the ‘casemates’– did not provide for any attack function, but on the contrary hosted the martial bakery for 5.000 soldiers. After being assigned as headquarters for the Brits in WWI and as a shelter for the inhabitants during WWII, they fulfilled among other things the function of ice cream factory, a mushroom nursery and a cheese ripery.

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The restoration and reconversion of 2013 concerns a fluid circulation between a conference room, exhibition spaces, a restaurant and an information desk with sanitary facilities inside this massive edifice. In a moderate and at the same time strong way, the present historical traces have been kept as accurate as possible. Straightforward contemporary, but extremely delicately and lightly designed additions such as (pivoting) doors and glass fronts enhance in one respect the soft formal language of the underground volumes, but also contrast with the heaviness of the stacked stone mass. As well as the elongated light fixtures, the indirect lighting alongside the seemingly floating concrete floor, emphasizes the depth of the subterrains. The entrance not only unlocks three of the five vaulted venues, but also generates a transition between the cobblestones in the street and the smooth polished concrete floor by means of concrete pavement tiles. As a gentle passage between present and past.

From this notable structure at the east of the Ypres stronghold, the Rampart Route starts, descends by means of stairs and slopes through the postern (an underground bomb-proof corridor through the stronghold) and brings the visitors over the new bridge to the ‘tenaille’ (deduplicated embankment). The single concrete arch is modestly placed between city and environment with a height inferior to the lowest point of the ramparts. For the first time the stronghold and the monuments open up as a functional connection for cyclists and pedestrians towards the city Centre. The thus created visitors circuit via the southern Lille Gate ends in the westbound with a seemingly simply designed sanitary block playing with open and closed architectural elements. The respectful positioning and architecture language illustrate the modesty of the architecture studio. Low by the ditch, the whole generates an external and exceptional experience of the remnants.

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