Hidden within a traditional block of houses, the new extension to the Museum of Photography in Charleroi takes roots in the orchard of a former Carmelite con- vent. The building is inside the enclosure of the convent, which hides a big garden which has several trees regis- tered with the Heritage Inventory. The park is surround- ed by backyards from suburban streets; a public school and a sports complex.
By investing the park, the new building invites visitors and neighbours to inhabit this inner outdoors. The park creates the link between three social functions: culture, education, and sports. Its opening to the public becomes a matter of social dynamics and urban transformation.
This vision is promoted by the city of Charleroi, who wishes to develop a ‘master plan for urban renewal’ for the surroundings, for which a candidacy to Feder funds has been presented. The project of re-designing the two adjacent public spaces (‘place Communale’ and ‘place des Essarts’) follows the track set by the new building, both in its urban principles and its funding, since the new building has been partly funded by the Feder program 2000-2006. Situated in the outskirts of the city centre, this urban pole will become a sign of optimism and con- fidence for the future of the city, thanks to the interna- tional standing of the museum. It will echo the airport, located on the other side of the valley of the Sambre, by making the city a destination rather than a hub.
From the outside, the new building seems to call out
to the surroundings, its succession of hollows creating lines of sight or backgrounds of a spatial scenography. The multiple shapes in the foreground become meaning- ful since they are related to their context (park, houses, equipments...). The inner stroll catches this outer exper- imentation and gives it the form of multiple looks.
Although the extension is opening this year, its ex- istence was already foreseen at the time of the first renovation of the convent. The Museum of Photography in Charleroi, founded by George and Jeanne Vercheval has occupied the convent since 1987. In 1993, l’Escaut intervened to guide the integration of artworks by the artists Francis Alÿs, Edith Dekyndt, Jean-Claude Sau- doyer and Marc Feulien. Thereafter, l’Escaut was put in charge of the entire renovation project, which ended in 1995.
The transformation of the convent into a museum of photography was a reverse process of existing logics in the building. A place where looking at the world was forbidden because of religious reasons became a place of revelation of the image for societal reasons. Its ex- tension defies conventional museum logics by multiply- ing the relationships to photography, its history and its many facets of representation.
The construction of the cantilever is a premiere in Eu- rope: its support is ensured with the use of cross lami- nated timber panels. The use of wood comes as a result of the experience of the Weinand group who are experts in the field of innovative wood structures. Yves Weinand is a professor at the EPFL in Lausanne and brings an international know-how to the project.
The work of Jeanine Cohen reveals the profoundness of the building, flirting with the sky and the ambient light. Inside the anodized profiles, coloured panes subtly enliven the façade, changing with the light and the time of the day. Photographic in its own right, the work ques- tions the meaning of photography as well as our percep- tions. The luminous skin gives an aerial lightness to the construction.
Program: exhibition rooms, cafeteria, library, auditorium, educational service, work space, storage space
Promoter: Belgian French Community (Communauté française de Belgique)
6 months of programme work with Xavier Canonne, director of the Museum collaboration with Jeanine Cohen (artist) for the façade panelling
Built surface including the carmelite convent: 8230 m2
Surface without storage space : 4700 m2
Exhibition space (carmelite convent + new wing): 2175 m2
Budget 3 400 000 Eur. Without VAT
Completion May 2008
Mies van der Rohe Awards 2009: Nominated
Prix d’Architecture du Hainaut 2008: Special Cultural Award
Belgian Building Awards 2009: Heritage Award