Transformed Ghent guild house wins Heritage Prize


A repurposed gatehouse in Leuven took the public vote, and a farm-turned-multi-family home completed the shortlist

Living monuments

A 16th-century guild house in Ghent has won this year’s Heritage Prize for its sympathetic transformation into a contemporary building.

The annual prize rewards recent achievements in monument restoration, landscape and archaeology, and this year focused on heritage that is not normally accessible to the public. There were 19 nominees, from which a jury made a shortlist of three: the Vrije Schippers guild house in Ghent (pictured above), the Sint-Norbertus gatehouse in Leuven and the Hof ter Beemt farm in Zingem, East Flanders. Each of the three won €2,500, with the winner receiving a further €12,500.

“As a living monument, the repurposed guild house gives a face to an important story from local history,” the jury said. “The beautifully restored murals tell more about the historical importance and use of the building.”

A balance of old and new

The house of the Vrije Schippers is one of the best-preserved guild houses on the Graslei in Ghent. Vrije Schippers were sailors who were permitted to sail on all the waterways in the county of Flanders, including those within Ghent. Other sailors were obliged to load and unload their cargo outside the city limits.

The monument has been completely restored and redeveloped with great respect for the various historical layers

The guild bought the site in 1530; almost 500 years later, in 2011, the North Sea Port authority bought the building to use as offices and meeting rooms, leaving the hall and the adjoining salon open to the public. Callebaut architecture bureau led the works, and architect Wouter Callebaut received an honorary mention from the judges for his contribution to the restoration.  

“The restoration project completely balanced old and new,” the jury said. “The monument has been completely restored and redeveloped with great respect for the various historical layers. All floors have been given a new function. Elements with heritage values were retained in situ and meticulously restored. All other interventions have been reversibly designed and implemented. This allows the guild house to easily adapt to new needs in the future.”

The Sint-Norbertuspoort in Leuven won the public prize following a poll in which more than 6,000 people voted. The city’s abbey park domain is surrounded by walls with a number of gates, including the Sint-Norbertus gate, which was used as a granary. Today the site is home to the Alamire Foundation, an organisation that carries out research into music in the Low Countries from the Middle Ages to 1800.  

The building (pictured above) has been transformed from its original function into a documentation centre, sound laboratory and digital library, with meeting rooms and workspaces. The project began in 2016 and is now overseen by the technical services of KU Leuven.

“The repurposing of the Sint-Norbertuspoort has been a success,” said the jury. “Lots of gatehouses stand empty today because their form and layout make repurposing difficult. But this gatehouse has become a fitting place to store and listen to music. Property and heritage have been beautifully brought together.”

The third shortlisted site, Hof ter Beemt, is an 18th-century farm with separate outbuildings. In 1875, a private complex was created on the site, along with a jenever distillery. Since then it has performed a variety of functions, including a meeting hall for Scouts, a cafe and an art gallery.  

In 2014, seven young families joined forces and bought the site to make it their shared home (pictured above). The restoration was carried out according to ecological and energy-saving principles, with respect for the site’s authentic character.

The jury said: “In just a short period of time, the site started to play a significant role in the local community. The project is an example for people who want to build ecologically or who are working out a cohousing project.” 

Photos: Onroerenderfgoed

In just a short period of time, the site started to play a significant role in the local community