Since 1992, the Music Centre De Bijloke has hosted concerts in a remarkable 13th-century former hospital building in Ghent, Belgium. The building has a rich history, but its acoustic design and internal set-up didn’t meet the needs of modern artists and audiences. We were asked to rebalance the needs of the modern venue with the historic fabric of the building itself.

From the Medieval to the modern

Collaborating with DRDH Architects, Arup’s venues specialists in acoustics, performance equipment systems, and theatre architecture and planning, were tasked with redesigning the building to upgrade its performance space for the 21st century.

Our plan preserved the heritage features and created a permanent interior layout giving audiences and performers a much improved immersive experience and improving the venue’s accessibility and technical infrastructure. The renovation has transformed the building, providing modern acoustics and comfort within historic walls.

Acoustic consulting for impactful experiences

Acoustic performance makes all the difference to impactful experiences. As the Music Centre De Bijloke was originally conceived as a medical facility, its design was limited. The space lacked clarity, warmth, presence, and acoustic intimacy – particularly to the rear. Small-scale interventions over time had made slight improvements, but more work was needed to unlock the building’s full potential.  
To achieve this, we redesigned the interior from the ground up. New side walls were developed to improve early sound reflections, and overhead reflectors were installed to enhance orchestral volume. The entire floor was lowered, creating a bigger space and increasing resonance. We also removed all sound absorbing finishes, such as drapes and carpets, to improve the overall acoustics.

We moved the stage forward for a stronger connection between artists and audiences, creating a space for choir seating and allowing audiences to experience performances from a different perspective. We improved accessibility by lowering the stage and installing a raked floor for step-free access to the stage. This also increased the space available for wheelchair users, creating an 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 a rich 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 fabric and ensuring that our alterations did no damage to historic features. 

The concert hall’s original walls were tilted outwards at a slight angle, directing sound away from the audience and towards the ceiling. To resolve this, new walls were constructed on either side of the seating area. These created a more immersive experience for artists and audiences alike by enveloping the sound. The walls were made to diffuse the sound, aiding string tone and balancing acoustic distribution within the venue. Every element was precisely positioned away from the original architecture to protect the masonry, ensuring that the walls remained intact and conserving them for future generations.

Renovating with sustainability in mind

Renovating a 13th-century building presents a unique set of challenges. The Medieval roof could not support the weight of new equipment, so we designed a series of self-supporting curved steel trusses, integrated into the roof to overcome structural limitations. These were threaded through the existing roof structure, keeping loads safely within capacity limits and augmenting acoustics with better string projection. The final design seamlessly blended with the deep mahogany of the exposed beams to complement the building aesthetics. 

A modern concert hall needs the latest infrastructure. We incorporated advanced lighting, rigging bars, and a new platform lift to raise the back stage simply and quickly. These assets give artists more creative flexibility to express their vision fully.  

The renovation highlights the importance of reusing and repurposing existing architecture to avoid the carbon impact of 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 urban environments and reducing collective carbon emissions.