Funding released for renovations to key architectural treasures


Two well-known historical Flemish sites have received allotments of promised funding this week, as renovations continue in Antwerp and Genk

Antwerp’s town hall will be more accessible and equipped with modern necessities by 2020
Antwerp's city hall

‘Modern hall of governance’

Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, also in charge of local heritage, took the occasion of the region’s Heritage Day to announce funding of two key renovation projects: Antwerp’s city hall and Genk’s Waterschei mine.

Works began on Antwerp’s distinctive town hall, an architectural highlight on the Grote Markt, earlier this month. The building is closed to the public and staff alike; staff are working in another building nearby.

Bourgeois’s office has released €3 million, the first of €30 from the Flemish government for works to the city hall as well as the nearby Het Steen, a medieval fortress set to become a tourist centre. Both projects are scheduled to be completed sometime in 2020.

The 16th-century city hall turned 450 years old in 2015 with a year-long celebration. Among other festivities, tours were offered of the building that included rooms normally closed to the public.

New building, old traditions

“All city councillors and staff will be able to work from the historical building again,” said Bourgeois’s office in a statement. “This renovation will turn it into a contemporary hall of governance. It will be an open building, an icon of valuable architectural heritage and also a sustainable building.”

The building has a remarkable history, surviving the Spanish Fury, the wars of the Hapsburgs and the French Revolution. Now succumbing to the ravages of time, weather and wear, it is undergoing a complete renovation inside and out to address climate control issues, repair damage to the historic decor and adapt the interior to modern use.

In the 16th century, there was a barber in the building and many other shops, even a brothel

- Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever

When the city hall was built, part of the ground floor was devoted to shops and services, and this will be the case again, according to Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever. “That was the intention in the 16th century,” he told VRT. “There was a barber and many other shops, even a brothel. We’re not planning on bringing that back, but you will find commercial services in the renovated building.”

As for Genk, it’s working on turning a piece of valuable industrial heritage into a cutting-edge technology park. Bourgeois announced the delivery of a fourth instalment of an €8 million heritage subsidy for Thor Park on the site of the former Waterschei coal mine.

Thor Park officially opened last year, but the restoration of the original infrastructure is ongoing. The Flemish government’s subsidies are going towards the renovation of the original mine buildings.

“The buildings are in a relatively poor state,” said Bourgeois’s office. “The works mostly involve restoration of the concrete and the roof and a thorough sprucing-up of the interior.”

The City of Genk, meanwhile, is also carrying out restoration works on the site’s distinctive headframe, which rises far above a mine shaft and allowed coal to be hoisted from the mine.

Photo: Antwerp’s town hall will be more accessible and equipped with modern necessities by 2020