Belgium: forging links with conservation academia
June 3, 2018 \ Heritage & Conservation
by multiple authors
Over the past 3 years, we have established a relationship with the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation at KU Leuven University in Belgium, providing workshops and lectures at our offices in Glasgow on their annual study trip to Scotland. This year, we were delighted to be invited to attend their end of year student reviews and spend the weekend with our friends in Leuven and Brussels learning about their work.
Visiting the department’s home, in a beautiful 16th century castle on the outskirts of Leuven, we were impressed by the breadth and depth of the student work, which focusses on conservation methodology and technical understanding. The course attracts students from across the world, and promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, with students working in groups of multiple nationalities and specialisms to deliver a joint thesis. This culture of interdisciplinary interdependence was inspiring to see in education, as it so closely represents the nature of conservation work in practice. The methodological approach to conservation assessment that the students undertake is incredibly thorough, and an aspirational benchmark for all conservation projects.
Professor Luc Verpoest also took the time to show us many projects and exhibitions in Leuven to broaden our understanding of the city and its rich architectural history, including notable works by architect Henry van de Velde. Of special interest was an exhibition on the reconstruction of Leuven after the first and second world wars, testament to the importance of perseverance to protect and conserve our cultural heritage.
Over the course of the weekend, we were also lucky enough to visit several buildings in Brussels by Victor Horta, with architect Barbara Van Der Wee, who has been responsible for their painstaking restoration over the past 20 years. Seeing the work of Horta so closely was inspiring, and drew parallels with our own understanding and knowledge of the work of Mackintosh, a contemporary of Horta. We were particularly taken by the complexity of spatial relationships at Hotel van Eetveld, proving Horta’s genius as a master of spatial complexity, as well as a leading designer of the decorative art nouveau.
Seeing the development of the Bozar in the centre of Brussels (a cultural complex of exhibition halls, venues and concert hall originally designed by Horta and completed in 1929), worked on by Barbara in conjunction with Robbrecht and Daem, was an inspiring example of adaptive reuse of historic buildings, while still maintaining the design sensibilities of the original scheme.
We would like to thank the staff and students at RLICC for their hospitality over the course of the weekend, particularly Luc Verpoest, Barbara Van Der Wee, Paul Lievevrouw, Koen Van Balen and Aziliz Vandesande. We look forward to future collaborations with our friends at the university, and their staff and students.