A landscape rising from the ground
The site is in the middle of the historical center of Soignies, a stone throw away from the imposing XII century collegiate that overshadows the surrounding fields.
The town of Soignies is 50 km away from Brussels, and constitutes the centre of an urban community of +/- 25.000 inhabitants. Its main economic activity is blue stone extraction in nearby quarries and corollary trades. Soignies is strongly attached to its folkloric traditions, amongst them the carnival and other street festivals. It has preserved a strong local flavour in spite of the proximity with the European capital.
The Senne, a river that was buried in the beginning of the XXth century, draws the outer limit of the site. Its invisible presence, as well as the massive church above the site, invited a topographical exploration on the project with these two elements as anchors. The building is covered with rough stone crust. Its forms evoke a strange rock emerging from the ground, as evidence of the town's original bond with its stone.
Theatre in the street
The proposal goes beyond its initial ambition, which is the construction of a multipurpose performing arts hall by including in its scope the rich outdoor carnival and local festivals. The project contains, in its morphology, the two sides of the local cultural dynamic: institutional culture inside the building, and folkloric culture outside and on the building, following the external walks and a stepped slope that doubles up as outdoors seating for street festivals, carnival and other events, or simply welcome occasional pedestrians.
By doing this, the building avoids the logic of the closed box. It proposes a very urban interpretation of the concept of show, and in doing that it opens the possibility of appropriation by the public in multiple ways, even when the building is closed. The building irradiates in its environment.
Public space as a pattern
At the time of the competition, the choice was made to limit the hall footprint and allow a new public square on the East side. It largely opened the construction block and let enter the public space into it. This choice meets the one of the external steps and walks: all these elements are catalysts, multipliers of urban space. The external steps, for instance, resulted from a will to erase the frontal façade of the building and to elevate the line of sight of the Van Zeeland square towards the Collegiate, which remains the main landmark of Soignies.
The building geometry is thus defined by the drawing of residual spaces which surround it, and the visual sequences that connect them. It is the reason of its geometry all in irregular angles, which closely sticks to the medieval weft of the urban fabric of Soignies.
The geometry of these sequences of external spaces, all in fluidity, is extended in the interior foyers of the building. These foyers are accessible by multiple points of the external public space, on all the levels of the building, accentuating the opening and the availability of this place of culture. They are stretched along the façades to transform what was to be a closed box in an open and luminous place. In the evening, the building illuminates its direct environment through these entirely glazed façades.
Play as a motor for public space appropriation
In this project, L'Escaut capitalizes on programme margins to maximise play and discovery opportunities in the urban space: plays on the outside stairs, during the walk up… This gives another point of view on the neighbourhood and invites to the appropriation of the building by the public.
The artist Domitienne Cuvelier joins this approach. She places wood benches around stone games on the new square, and surrounds them with trees and plants whose seeds can be used as chips in the games by passers-by and pupils of neighbouring schools.
A “small big” hall
In contrast with the airy foyers, the hall is submerged in darkness thanks to its acoustic dyed. The surface of the stage stretches to half of the total surface, which makes possible large-scale dance and theatre shows. The telescopic seating (from 400 to 600) guarantees use flexibility according to the nature of the show. The highest gallery, which has the same visibility curve as the seating, invites you to dive into the stage space.
Acoustics have been studied by the French study practice CAPRI acoustique, which has a vast experience with cultural spaces such as the rehabilitation of the Garnier opera in Paris. The main concern was to limit noise pollution in the neighbourhood as well as exploiting the geometrical configuration of the hall in all its circumstances: theatre, music, evenings.
As a result of a public/private cooperation between the city Soignies, the Belgian French Community and Dexia Bank, the new cultural polyvalent hall has the ambitions of the high and demanding level that the tool provides. This allows the city Soignies to imagine their cultural offer on a regional scale.
This project follows an architecture competition, won by the temporary association l' Escaut & the study office Weinand.
Location: Place Van Zeeland in Soignies.
Cultural hall with 400 seats / 600 standing up. The hall’s purpose is to host creation as well as artistic diffusion of shows, exhibitions, animations or events.
Funding: Belgian French Community
Surface areas 1950 m2
Budget 3.000.725 € WVAT
Gauge 400 seats, 600 standing up Maximal height 14 m
Duration January 2005 (competition) – May 2009
Mies van der Rohe Awards 2011: Shortlisted for the catalogue & exhibition
Grand Prix Architecture Wallonie 2012: Award winner
Prix Belge pour l’Architecture et l’Energie 2011: Award winner
Belgian Building Awards 2010: Nominated