Since 1992, the Music Centre De Bijloke has hosted concerts in a remarkable 13th-century former hospital building in Ghent, Belgium. While the building’s rich history was treasured by many, its acoustic design and internal set-up were at odds with the needs of modern artists and audiences.
Collaborating with DRDH Architects, Arup’s venues specialists in acoustics, performance equipment systems, and theatre architecture and planning, redesigned the building to upgrade its performance space for 21st century audiences and performers.
Carefully preserving the concert hall’s heritage features, we developed a permanent interior layout to give audiences and performers a new sense of immersion, while improving the venue’s accessibility and technical infrastructure. This renovation has transformed the user experience, helping the local community to enjoy the latest concerts from within the building’s historic walls.
750+ year old concert hall
48new acoustic reflector panels
Designing impactful and accessible cultural experiences
The acoustic performance of a venue makes all the difference when working to create impactful experiences. As the Music Centre De Bijloke was originally conceived as a medical facility, its design was limited from the outset. The space lacked reverberance, warmth, envelopment, and acoustic intimacy – particularly in the rear half of the hall. While slight improvements had been made through small-scale interventions over time, more work was needed to unlock the building’s full potential.
To achieve this, we redesigned the venue’s internal set-up from the ground up. New vertical side walls were developed to improve early sound reflections, and overhead reflectors were installed to enhance orchestral ensemble. The entire floor was then lowered to expand the space’s volume, which increased its natural reverberance. We also removed all sound absorbing finishes, such as drapes and carpets, to improve the concert hall’s acoustics.
As part of the renovation, we moved the performance platform forwards to establish a stronger connection between artists and rear row audiences. This created the space to feature choir seating, which enabled visitors to experience performances from a different perspective. The redesign also improved the venue’s accessibility. By lowering the platform and designing a new audience rake, we were able to provide visitors with a step-free access point to the stage. Additionally, this increased the space available for wheelchair users, making for a more inclusive experience for all.
The hall exceeds all expectations. The acoustics strengthen the connection and communication between the musicians, which is essential for our work. The sound is very refined and clear, but at the same time the orchestra sounds like a balanced whole. Add those two together and you get a room that makes the orchestra shine at its best. ” Kristiina Poska Chief conductor of the Flanders Symphony Orchestra
Preserving cultural heritage
Heritage buildings play an important role in connecting us with our past. We worked with DRDH Architects, and heritage specialists Julian Harrap Architects, to carefully preserve the Music Centre De Bijloke’s building; ensuring that alterations were made without damaging its historic features.
Our early studies revealed that the concert hall’s original walls were tilted outwards at a slight angle, which directed sound away from the audience and into the roof. To resolve this, we designed new vertical walls that were constructed on either side of the seating area. These enhanced the envelopment of the sound – helping to create a more immersive experience for artists and audiences alike. The walls were treated with diffusion, which aided string tone and balanced the distribution of sound within the concert hall. The new elements were precisely positioned to set them apart from the original architecture and protect the building’s traditional masonry. This ensured that the old walls remained intact throughout the construction process, conserving them for future generations.
Renovating a 13th-century building presented a unique set of challenges. Owing to its age and original design, the roof was unable to support the weight of new equipment. A series of self-supporting, curved steel trusses were integrated into the building’s roof to address its structural limitations. These enabled an intricate array to be threaded into the building’s roof structure while keeping loads safely within capacity. The array supported orchestral ensemble, increased string sound projection, and seamlessly blended into the deep mahogany of its exposed timber roof, complementing the building’s aesthetics.
As part of this redesign, the latest infrastructure was installed. This included advanced lighting, rigging bars, and a new platform lift – which provided a quick and simple way to elevate the rear zone of the performance platform. When combined, these assets give artists more creative flexibility when planning their concerts, allowing them to express their artistic vision without limitation.
The renovation of this beloved historic building conveys the importance of reusing and repurposing our existing architecture – which also helps to avoid the carbon footprint of constructing new-build projects. Aligning with our circular economy ethos and our focus on cultural sustainability – heritage developments such as these are key to improving the sustainability of the world’s urban environments and reducing our collective carbon emissions.