During the 2015 and 2017 editions of Heritage Day (Open Monumentendag), I went to see an international assembly of master glassblowers, seated around a searingly hot, wood-fired glass furnace set up in Velzeke, and producing what were certainly some of the finest examples of their craft. In 2016, I visited one of the largest stone age excavations in the Low Countries, situated in Kerkhove, near the river Scheldt, and tried to make a pictorial report of the activities that took place on and around the site.
While I wasn't able to attend this year's (2018) 30th edition, I went to see one of the monuments a few days ahead of the event (and the crowds), as part of an evening lecture series organised by Archipel. As a prelude to the evening program, which served as a platform for four architects to each present their take on dealing with monuments and heritage in general, we were taken on a guided tour through the renovated Emile Braun school, situated in the heart of old town Ghent. Our guides, the architects (i.e., Architectenbureau Van Acker & Partners), had overseen the restoration of the classified parts of the site, as well as designed a number of new additions to the building, such as a new walkway with a corten steel clad facade, and a complete reconstruction of a courtyard facing wall.
The architects' story illustrated both the rich history of the building, as well as its ties to Ghent University: in 1817, the newly erected university's first lessons took place in the very building, which is not all that surprising, as the Aula, the ceremonial heart of the university, was build right next to it. The history of the site goes back as far as 1660 however, in the form of a Jesuit college housed in the newly finished first phase of the building complex.
One petite histoire, which proves particularly hard to shake off, is the fact that the intricate 17th century stucco ceiling, which adorns what is now a faculty library, was apparently retrieved from the harbour of Ghent, cut into pieces of about one square metre. Nobody knows exactly when and why it had been removed, why it had been stored in the harbour, nor why, from a certain moment on, the panels had been piled up outside the warehouse, subject to the elements and left to rot.
But hold on. The story gets weirder still. Although severely damaged, the separate parts were meticulously restored (although I got the feeling that the imagery had probably been more delicate in the past - the current figures felt a bit "heavy set" to me) into a full-blown ceiling, by using a lot of patience, undeniable skill, and - here it comes - a set of orthogonal photographs documenting the entire ceiling, made by a member of the German occupation army during the first WW.
One thing that probably only bugs a photographer, was the reliance on fluorescent tubes to light the interior of the building. The yellowish, greenish colour, combined with an output that is nowhere near full spectrum (which is, again, an understatement), made white and colour balancing the pictures, with daylight coming in through the windows, an annoying task. As such, I decided to convert the images in question to black and white. That, and upping the contrast a bit, removed a bit of the ancient patina visible on the old floors, but made everything more clean in return, underscoring and enhancing the boldness and fortitude of this centuries old building.
Dark when we left the building, and a refreshing drink in my hand, I couldn't resist the lit facade seen as from the first courtyard.
Nor this alley on the way back to the car ...