Three public buildings compete for Flanders Heritage Prize


The annual award puts the spotlight on recently restored historic buildings balancing heritage with new uses

Public vote

Recently restored buildings in Bruges, Mechelen and Knokke-Heist have been selected as contenders for the 2020 Flanders Heritage Prize. Voting is now open to choose the public’s favourite, an honour on top of the €12,500 prize awarded by a jury.

The Flanders Heritage Prize puts recently restored monuments in the spotlight, singling out those that balance heritage with new uses in a sensitive and creative way. The focus of this year’s competition is buildings open to the public, although the recent coronavirus restrictions have made this distinction something of a moving target. At present, however, it is possible to visit all three contenders.

The Gruuthuse Museum in Bruges (pictured) combines its origins as 15th-century townhouse with neo-Gothic modifications made in the 19th century. The architects behind the 2019 restoration are praised for balancing old and new, and in particular for building a contemporary pavilion in an inner courtyard.

The Predikheren in Mechelen is a 17th-century monastery, subsequently used as a poor house, military hospital and barracks. After lying empty for years, it was recently redesigned as a city library. The restoration preserves many of these historical layers, and is praised for making use of the whole building, for instance by creating a reading roof in the roof.

Rising from the ashes

The final contender is slightly more obscure: Sint-Niklaas Church in Westkapelle, part of Knokke-Heist on the coast. The church was gutted by fire in 2013, but has since been scrupulously restored, with the addition of new facilities for the community.

“This project shows that it is possible to transform ‘lost’ heritage with respect for the past,” the organisers say. Traces of the fire have been left visible, and new elements added, such as new metal spire, and stained glass windows with rural motifs.

The three finalists were selected by a jury from 43 entries. The jury will pick the winner, but voting is also open for the public prize. The winners will be announced on 2 October.

The idea is that the three locations will also take part in Open Monument Day on 13 September, although given the changing situation with the coronavirus it remains to be seen whether or not this will be possible.

Photo ©Inge Kinnet / Musea Brugge