Flemish group that saves historical sites wins prestigious European award


The Flemish Association for Industrial Archaeology has won a European Heritage Award for Dedicated Service in saving historical sites from demolition and getting them repurposed

Standing at the frontline

Two Belgian organisations were awarded European Heritage Awards yesterday in Paris. The prestigious prizes are handed out by Europa Nostra, the pan-European organisation that protects and lobbies on behalf of cultural and natural heritage.

The Brussels-based Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage won an award in the Research category for its Verona project. Verona makes the paintings of Jan Van Eyck available on a web platform.

The project broke new ground by creating ultra-high-resolution imagery with state-of-the-art equipment and by adopting a single, standardised protocol for all of the paintings. The Verona team travelled over 12,000 kilometres to collaborate with every museum in Europe with a painting by Van Eyck in its collection.

To document the paintings, the team used macrophotography, infrared reflectography and, in some cases, X-radiography. It also used macro-XRF scanning, an innovative technique for mapping pigments made available through a partnership with Antwerp University.

“The Verona project sets an excellent example for the documentation of works that are dispersed in numerous locations using a standardised methodology,” said the prize jury. “The images are not only of the highest quality but are also accessible for further research and wider public use.”

A European Heritage Award also went to the Flemish Association for Industrial Archaeology (VVIA) for its “relentless efforts to protect a strand of heritage whose survival and sustainable restoration is not self-evident”.

The Flemish association has time and again stood at the frontline to protect sites and monuments that faced destruction

- Prize jury

VVIA is largely responsible for some of Flanders’ most notable renovations of historical industrial infrastructure, such as culture centres C-Mine in Genk and Zuiderpershuis in Antwerp. Its mission is to assess the value of abandoned industrial sites for future use and convince governments at every level to preserve them rather than tear them down.

The organisation’s president, Adriaan Linters (pictured above), was in Paris to receive the prize for Dedicated Service. Linters and a group of other students saved Hasselt’s old jenever distillery from demolition in the 1970s. Now home to the Jenever Museum, it is one of the pride and joys of the Limburg capital. Linters co-founded the VVIA soon after, the first heritage organisation of its kind on the continent.

“Industrial heritage has long been an endangered part of the cultural heritage family, costly to preserve and in need of continuous maintenance,” said the European Heritage Award jury. “In addition, the vast scope of the concept – including mills, mines, ships and factories among others – has posed a great challenge to those individuals and organisations that wish to preserve it for future generations. Despite these and other complications, the Flemish Association for Industrial Archaeology has time and time again stood at the frontline to protect those sites and monuments that faced destruction, often without much financial assistance.”

The award ceremony yesterday was held in the Théâtre du Châtelet in the centre of Paris, itself a renovated monument. Prizes were handed out by maestro Plácideo Domingo, the president of Europa Nostra. Several European Commissioners were present as well as French minister of culture Franck Riester.

Photo: Adriaan Linters of VVIA has dedicated his life to saving old factories and mines from demolition
©Courtesy Made in Antwerpen