Conversion of old factory De Porre to city park, Ghent
Ghent is home to the old textile factory De Porre, hub of a thriving textile industry during the 30’s and for many years a major provider of employment. In World War II the factory was heavily bombed and rebuilt afterwards. Bankruptcy forced the factory to close its doors in 1980.
After years of vacancy, large parts of the factory had become dilapidated and run down. An unsafe, abandoned place, with vandalism running rampant, the vacant factory soon deteriorated into a source of nuisance to the local residents.
The project aims to reconvert the old textile factory into a city park. This reconversion is part of a mixed-use development urban renewal project commissioned by Sogent, the urban development company of Ghent.
Surrounded, as it is, by a variety of functions and users, the park is under a lot of outside pressure. The aim was to create a diversified park which could cope with this pressure and stimulate a renewed community life for the neighbourhood.The design brief proved a simultaneous exercise in creating a site with plenty of flow, while preserving walls and constructions and maintaining a logical, workable zoning of the park’s functions. The orthogonal plan of the old textile factory is used as a basic template for a zoning of the park. New, organic green spaces and a paths network contrast with what remains of this underlying structure.
At the centre of the city park, the cooling tower has been preserved and restored as a sort of static sculpture. As the most conspicuous construction, this remnant of an industrial past will feature prominently in the landscape. The cooling tower remains a landmark, linking the park to its wider surroundings.
A light, fragile, white glass structure has been erected opposite the cooling tower’s heavy, solid concrete construction. Inside the pavilion, which is illuminated from the inside, the steam turbine finally winds down, becoming an artefact in nature. The steam turbine is a unique piece, only five copies of which are still in existence worldwide. The old cooling water basin next to the steam turbine has been redeveloped as a treatment pond, becoming a perfect playing feature for children. From there, the water flows into a shallow play pond, itself spilling over into a wadi when there is too much water.
The most characteristic construction features have been cut out and laid bare. The old metal rafters have been painted white, contrasting sharply with the patina of the weathered walls.
Wherever possible, spontaneous vegetation has been allowed to extend across the entire grounds, without creating an unkempt impression. There is a lovely interplay between indigenous, shady trees, delightful fruit trees, fragrantly blossoming plants and fields of flowers.This approach is called “Sprezzatura” in Italian, the studied chaos. The growing patterns of the plants have been left enticingly “wild”.
By preserving some historical artefacts, the park becomes an ‘architectural landscape’. On another level, the integration of portraits of former employees in the factory (central gangway), adds a social dimension to the historical one already present in the park’s design. On the whole, new meaning and new life are achieved by the bringing together of past and present. The walls and structures become the historical placemat for the development of new activities. Ever since the park was realised, there has been a resurgence of activity in the neighbourhood. The reconversion has rubbed off positively on the buildings and quarters around the park. Thanks to the public participation sessions, locals have felt very involved with the project. The park is now being used intensively across the generations (senior citizens, families, children), becoming, much like it used to be, thé meeting place for the neighbourhood.