The Bruges Meeting & Convention Centre (BMCC) is a landmark urban renewal project by Eduardo Souto de Moura and META architectuurbureau, located in the heart of the historic city. With a multifunctional exhibition hall on the ground floor (4,500 m²), which also serves as a public covered square, the building is an integral part of the neighbourhood. The upper floors accommodate a conference area for over 500 participants.
In selecting Souto de Moura and META for this project, the City of Bruges sealed its reputation as a champion of architectural quality.
Bruges’s previous exhibition hall, now demolished, was erected as a temporary structure over 50 years ago (in 1966) by Groep Planning. When it became increasingly clear that it was physically unable to meet contemporary programming requirements, the City of Bruges launched an urban renewal project with the intention of creating a new dynamic in West-Brugge. Besides the construction of a new exhibition hall – extended with a conference space – the area surrounding the new building was completely redesigned.
District-oriented and dynamic
The architectural team – Eduardo Souto de Moura and META architectuurbureau – has delivered an open and virtually obstacle-free exhibition hall that can accommodate every type of event, from trade fairs and conferences to public gatherings and even concerts. But at the same time, by opening up the outer glass walls of the exhibition hall, the area can be transformed into a public covered square, accessible to passers-by and an integral part of the neighbourhood.
The preservation of the majestic trees that have long graced the Beursplein was a non-negotiable stipulation from the very outset. The design team responded to the city’s request with immense skill: a building was designed that integrates itself into the city and enters into an open dialogue with the neighbourhood. The trees, in turn, provide a beautiful green setting.
Beech trees are generally sensitive to changing soil conditions. The architectural team succeeded, to everyone’s relief and satisfaction, in supporting the mature trees safely and healthily through the building works. The designers worked in collaboration with external arborists and the City of Bruges’ Public Works Department.
Bruges Meeting & Convention Centre, Monumental and welcoming architecture
Functional division and flexible use are two of the building’s greatest assets. Connected by a shared entrance, the exhibition and conference areas can be used independently or simultaneously. While the exhibition hall is organised horizontally, oriented towards the neighbourhood and immediately accessible from outside, the conference area is stacked vertically.
The monumental building rests on a glass plinth. This enhances the transparency at ground level whole emphasising the public character of what can also be a covered square. The entrance is dominated by an impressive cantilever that provides a covered entrance. The floating canopy – a sheltered meeting place in both summer and winter – also organises a gradual transition between the forecourt and the building’s entrance.
The massive brick columns lend an attractive cadence to the façade. With their solid character, they provide plenty of shade but also serve as an integral sun shield. From the second floor, they direct the viewer’s gaze from inside to outside and over the city centre, where the three towers of the Belfry, the Saint Salvator’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady define the Bruges skyline.
Brick with a nod to historic Bruges
The building has a robust, massive appearance thanks to the use of reddish brown bricks that correspond to the colour palette of the city. The bricks are fully set in the mortar and with a simple levelled joint they allude to traditional masonry techniques. A reference to historic Bruges.
Comprehensive programme with three-chairs principle
Combining an exhibition hall with a conference centre creates a natural convergence between the two functions. Moreover, the addition of a convention facility not only meets the demand for accommodating groups of 500+ people in the heart of Bruges. It also responds to Bruges’ tourist offering, with conference visitors finding their way to the centre mainly on the less touristy weekdays. In this way, the fairs and conventions will contribute to the tourist revival.
The conference centre has been designed according to the three-chairs principle: a conference participant has a seat in the plenary hall, in the meeting rooms and in the catering area. The latter adjoins a terrace that offers an unrivalled view across the city. In more detail, the programme also includes a divisible auditorium with retractable seating for over 500 visitors, 12 meeting rooms that are also divisible, a catering area of 675 m², an adjoining terrace of 176 m², an underground bicycle shed and spacious, user-friendly parking for organisers.
The Beursplein and its surroundings
Tradition, harmony and innovation
The Beursplein and surrounding streets were all renewed – façade by façade – as part of the redevelopment scheme. The pavement, the street and central area were redesigned into a square, with soft mobility and an ambitious visual quality. The public space supports the BMCC. An all-embracing gesture that mediates between indoors and outdoors, but also between the square and the city.
The Beursplein, which used to be a car park, has primarily become a new urban square that radiates tranquillity. A well-conceived street profile creates additional free space around the perimeter. This not only benefits the residents, but also the catering industry, the nearby schools, the student facilities and the hotels. Because of the limited intensity, the street profile is embedded in a virtually level square. As a result, car traffic becomes secondary and the soft road user takes precedence in the space.
The Beursplein was finished in a high-quality washed concrete, in line with the interior flooring of the BMCC. An unexpected choice, given that the majority of Bruges’ streets are paved with cobblestones. The atypical paving was a conscious choice by the design team, who considered the functional use of the new site. The choice of materials brings a specific character and experiential quality to the site: concrete and cobblestones seek out the same colours, tones and textures. The light grey composite has been washed out so that the fine black gravel in the concrete catches the light. Matching this are the cobblestones in Portuguese granite. The two materials create a harmonious whole.
The parking spaces around the square are paved with Swedish granite cobblestones, recovered from the old Beursplein.
The oversized tree beds emphasise the presence of the beeches on the square, but above all provide enhanced growing conditions. The evergreen undergrowth ensures a continuous green collar around the Beursplein. In the spring, more than 8,000 daffodils will also appear under the trees. A new Magnolia has also been planted. The latter will provide a striking display of flowers in the spring when the beech trees are still dormant.
Art integration by Philip Aguirre y Otegui
A bronze sculpture by the artist Philip Aguirre y Otegui (b. 1961, Schoten, Belgium) was selected for the square in consultation with both the City of Bruges and the architects. With De Bron [The Source], the artist brings the forecourt to life, a meeting place for young and old.