Ghent unveils plans to bring Floraliën Hall back to life

Summary

The historical building complex in Citadel Park will be reorganised and opened up to the public

Flower power

Plans to restore the historic Floraliën Hall in Ghent’s Citadel Park and revamp the adjacent International Conference Centre (ICC) have been unveiled by the city. The idea is to bring the hall back into use and recover some of its value as a part of the city’s heritage.

The Floraliën Hall was built for the World’s Fair held in Ghent in 1913. As the name suggests, it was designed with botanical exhibitions in mind, with one wing that functioned as a hothouse.

Modifications over the years included the addition of side buildings, including a casino, and conversion of the hothouse into a velodrome. The biggest change came in the 1970s, when the cement block ICC structure was added to the complex.

The current Floraliën Hall is empty and unused ©Michiel de Cleene

This left the original hall buried in the middle of a sprawl of buildings. Big flower shows still took place there every five years, but in 1990 these relocated to the more modern Flanders Expo, depriving the hall of its main function.

Since then, the Floraliën Hall has largely been unused, a dusty hangar visible when you climb the back stairs of the Smak contemporary art museum, which moved into the casino in 1999.

The plans unveiled this week will open up the Floraliën Hall, making it accessible from the park and providing a new entrance for the conference centre. “The Floraliën Hall will become a covered urban space that is not only accessible, but can be used for various functions,” said Janik Beckers of Brussels design firm 51N4E, which developed the plans together with Ghent’s NU Architectuuratelier.

The current ICC building and how it could look later on, with the Floraliën Hall on the left
©51N4E, NU Architectuuratelier

Meanwhile, the ICC conference centre will be overhauled, its internal space completely reorganised to allow for more flexibility. One of its buildings – the Azalea Hall – will be demolished and the land returned to the park. An extra floor will be added to make up for this loss of space.

“The new International Conference Centre and its iconic Floraliën Hall will make Ghent a top location for international conferences,” said Bram Van Braeckevelt, city councillor responsible for tourism.

A master plan for the buildings should be ready by mid-2021. This will also propose a way of offering Smak more space. If all goes well, work will start in 2022 and end in 2024.

The city also wants to create a pedestrianised square connecting Smak and the neighbouring Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, but there are transport issues that need to be resolved before this can progress.

Photo, top: How the Floraliën Hall could look in future ©51N4E en NU Architectuuratelier