St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent

St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent

St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, is a place of pilgrimage for both religious and cultural history buffs. Among other things, the abbey houses one of the most important works in European art history – the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, attributed to the van Eyck brothers. The cathedral now has a new visitor centre to match the cultural and historical treasures it contains and the religious people who visit it. The design with Jansen VISS steel profiles makes the visitor centre synonymous with its valuable heritage.

The restoration of this important work of art was the driving force behind the project to create an ambitious new visitor centre. This was all the more important given the regional tourism project “Flemish Masters” and when it became clear that the artwork needed to be better exhibited and made more accessible. Therefore, the famous altarpiece was once again given a prominent place within its religious location – in the Cathedral’s Sacramental Chapel. Integrating the work of art into its original liturgical setting means exhibiting it in an optimal location, but this also poses considerable challenges. Today, the precious work is protected by an air-conditioned display case. Another problem arose from the fact that this is an actively used place of worship that is primarily intended for liturgical purposes and must remain open to believers. In addition, routes had to be created for visitors primarily interested in cultural artefacts, so that the different flows of visitors were organised and distributed as harmoniously as possible. And all this without detracting from the historic building.

From the crypt, the route leads to the highlight of the tour: the ” Lamb of God” by the van Eycks in the Sacrament Chapel. To ensure direct and barrier-free access to these rooms and the various floors, Ghent-based Bressers Architects designed a glass stair tower for the outer wall. Their intervention followed two important design principles: continuity and confrontation. In all new interventions, the aim is to integrate as much as possible into the existing architecture. In the case of the cathedral, this was achieved by consistently repeating the architectural language and creating a “clear path” through the series of circulation zones.

The choice of materials also played an important role in ensuring continuity. The new elements are largely made of glass, so visitors can still see the fabric of the original cathedral building. Inevitably, there is a confrontation between new and old elements. To give the building’s main attractions a subtle stage, the transparent areas were complemented by wood, concrete and simple ceramic tiles. Metal, or brass to be precise, forms the link with the existing elements as it is used prominently throughout. The new curved metal doors and windows in the cathedral’s vestibule are a case in point. These are made of highly thermally insulated Jansen VISS steel profiles with a cover cap, normally available in aluminium, but in this case brass and bronze.

The towering glass façade of the new entrance in the corner between the choir and the side chapel is also a structure made with Jansen VISS steel profiles, in this case the mullion-transom option. The curtain wall in the dome was connected with a screw joint and welded to the outer wall. The steel profiles were specially selected for the building and meticulously assembled by Lootens’ metalworkers.

All Jansen profiles – VISS and Janisol – were given a special coating to prevent electrolysis and corrosion between steel and brass. Especially for the cathedral, the designers carried out an investigative design process with BLAD (Bressers Laboratory Architecture Design) in close cooperation with the client. The renovation and extension of the cathedral building with modern and artistic elements of steel and glass make it an architectural masterpiece for the 21st century, both from a functional and aesthetic point of view. (NS)

Photography: Tim Van de Velde

Profile range: Jansen VISS
Architect: Bressers Architecten
Execution: Lootens

St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent
St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent

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