‘De Krook’, aka ‘Open house for culture, knowledge and innovation’, is an urban renewal project consisting of a new building that includes the new city library, experimental laboratories, the university radio, a café for reading, and workshops for start ups. We asked architect Ralf Coussée whether it was a challenge to tackle such a place that long ago was the pride of the city and then became a shameful scar for the same length of time. "Certainly. One has to know the city and its residents quite well, because Gent is notoriously rebellious and critical, especially when it comes to its public space. Moreover, it is not an easy site because of altitude differences and the location on the banks of the river Schelde."

The COUSSÉE & GORIS architecten are known for making connections and creating intimate places in public spaces. "We decided to give the river banks – which were overgrown with weeds and graffiti tags and trash - back to the residents: those diehards who have remained here all these years. At the bottom of the site, underneath the building, we created a slow circulation pathway, which will be predominantly used by residents. Visitors can use the upper fast track. Loyal residents thus receive a place for themselves which did not exist before. We also created the Miriam Makeba square, a new open space which offers some intimacy between the various buildings on the site. You know, the people of Ghent are strollers in heart and soul who very much love organic squares, woven into the urban fabric. We took this into account. The building is like a balcony enabling the locals to look out over their city with renewed pride." By the way, the City of Ghent have taken the opportunity to live up to its agreement with South-Africa to name places and streets in the city after heroes of the South-African freedom struggle, so on the site there is besides the Miriam Makeba square also the Nelson Mandela promenade and the Steve Biko Bridge, which gives extra luster to De Krook.

View from De Krook on the 3 towers of Gent, image Michiel Devijver
‘De Krook’ promises to be a place that appeals to a wide audience, from the rehearsing local majorette club, artists who collaborate with the IPEM research centre in musicology, to start ups in robotics and digital fabrication. A true hub of innovation and culture, with the city library at the heart of it all. "All these different organizations and individuals are hosted on the same site, which creates the conditions for creative cross-pollination. Enabling creative connections is our aim with this new building.” That the new building and by extension the entire site welcomes many types of visitors, and explicitly presents itself as an open house is also reflected in the architecture: “we have created a very open and transparent building, which allows processes that don’t yet exist in Gent: crossovers, connections, collaborations. Cut out for the 21st century", Ralf Coussée concludes.

Staircase, De Krook, image Michiel Devijver