A little bit of Japan in Belgium

As a result of the twinning of Hasselt and Itami (Hyogo perfecture in Japan) the city of Hasselt is the proud owner of the greatest Japanese garden in Europe. This weekend the garden hosted a Manga and Cosplay convention that added a bit of extra flair.

The garden is a place for contemplation and meditation. Japanese workers constructed the garden and I really felt their Japanese spirit.

The entrance tickets are lovely designed highlighting the most beautiful spots:

Japanese Garden | Hasselt | Belgium

The cosplay and manga convention was just the perfect extra for a first visit:

The twinning of Hasselt and Itami also resulted in the Flanders Nippon Golf & Business Club, a site I’m absolutely going to explore in the future.

Japanse tuin
Japanse tuin on Facebook

Street Address
Gouverneur Verwilghensingel 23, 3500 Hasselt, Belgium

A new tower for Books

In 1935 Henry van de Velde finished his designs for the Boekentoren (Book Tower) of Ghent, beacon in the skyline of Ghent. If all goes well, this tower should be restored in it’s original state by 2019.

Henry van de Velde designed the tower, which was completed in 1939, with the supporting knowhow of Gustave Magnel and Jean-Norbert Cloquet, both professors at the University of Ghent. It was declared a protected monument in 1992. Situated on the highest ground in the city, the tower would act as a beacon, a symbol of the university, of science, wisdom and knowledge. It was Ghent’s fourth tower.

Boekentoren Gent | Original plan

I was lucky to visit the tower in 2009, just before renovations would start. This elaborate renovation was set in motion by Andre Singer, after he acquired Henry van de Velde’s plans for the tower in 2002.Renovations are lead by Robbrecht and Daem, supported by Barbara Van der wee, Sum Projects, Diadalos Peutz, Bureau d’Etudes Greisch and VK Engineering.

The building in reinforced concrete is 64 metres high, has four storeys in the basement, twenty above ground level. The belvedère on top is breathtaking. The setting was perfectly used in this presentation from A.F. Vandevorst, featuring Lisbeth Gruwez:

The restoration started on March 2012 and has 5 phases:

  • Phase 1 (2011-2013): Construction of the underground repository beneath the courtyard. Re-modelling of the present computer workplaces and a furnishing of a fully-fledged basement and mezzanine, where an environment for study will be developed providing working space for groups and multimedia.
  • Phase 2 (2013-2016): Restoration of the tower (above and below ground level), façade included. Furnishing of the Belvedère.
  • Phase 3 (2013-2016): Restoration of the reading rooms (main reading room, periodicals reading room, map room and manuscript reading room). Repair of all exteriors and re-laying-out of the courtyard.
  • Phase 4 (2016-2019): Furnishing of a reader’s café and the HIKO wing with auditoria.
  • Phase 5 (2016-2019): Furnishing of library personnel offices and construction of a bicycle shelter.

Like a true modernist architect, Henry van de Velde designed every possible detail for the interior: furniture, window frames, floor patterns. My impressions of the building:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This renovation is truely a renovation 2.0 project, you can find small features on vimeo. Be sure to watch the first episode:

And mark 2020 in your calendar for a visit to the newly restored tower!

Street address
Rozier 9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

Want to read more?
Visit the official site of the university of Ghent.
You can follow the restoration on Facebook.

The Universe of Panamarenko

Panamarenko is one of my heroes. He’s a true uomo universale: artist, inventor, engineer, visionary and dreamer. The Antwerp museum for contemporary art (M HKA) currently presents a “small” and comprehensive exhibition on his works. It covers his early years to his retirement now almost 10 years ago. Over the years, I have seen quite a few presentations of Panamarenko’s creations and he never ceases to touch my heart.

The most important thing for me is that once in a while there lies a kind of poetry in what I create.

Here’s my selection of some new and old gems. Enjoy!

The invisible church

I must confess, I’m not a religious person. I visit churches not to pray, but to marvel at their architecture. “Reading Between the lines”, the beautiful see-through church in the hills of Borgloon struck me with its almost spiritual flair.
The experience starts at the bottom of the hill where this sign gives you a glimpse of what to expect…

Between the Lines | Borgloon

After a short walk along a sandy trail, you first only see some trees. The sandy path turns into a path covered with grass and  then you see the church between the trees:
Between the Lines | Borgloon

I’m a big fan of dramatic entrances and this one hits the jackpot! After recovering from the first impression and a small walk you find yourself in front of a true inspirational building.

I’m of course not the first and only one to discover this “little” work of art. When I was there for let’s say little less than an hour, people were coming and going all the time, enjoying the view. Some were pretending to be a real priest and started giving each other blessings inside the church. Funny and I never experienced this in a real church 😉

What about the facts? The church is part of Pit, an “art in open space” project by Z33. It is designed by Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh, two young architects/artists from Leuven and was built in 2011.

The work is titled Reading between the Lines. The lines are essential, suggesting its true form, but never without loosing sight of the surroundings. The basic dimensions are 90% air and 10% steel:

Reading Between the Lines | Borgloon

And those lines make it worth the Archdaily price for Building of the year 2012 (category religious architecture).

100 steel plates were used to reach up to 10 meters high (the tower is 5 meters high). The church is raised on a fundament of armed concrete and is inspired by the Church of John The Baptist in Kuttekoven, which is not so far away from Reading Between the Lines:

Church Saint John The Baptist | Kuttekoven

When you enter the church, it feels like the construction is very solid. Especially looking up into the tower, you get this view (notice the way the light enters through the windows):

Reading Between the Lines | Borgloon

The windows in the church are created by cutting out parts in the vertical layers:

Reading Between the Lines | Borgloon

And to make the work of art complete: if you look at Reading Between the Lines from the right angle, you can see the tower of the Church of Borgloon through the church:


And what makes it such a great work? For me the fact that the structure almost isn’t there and can’t be ignored at the same time. It is one of those pieces of art that has found the perfect spot to be displayed. It almost “forces” visitors to sit down for a minute and experience the building, the meadows, the live stock that grazes in the nearby fields and most of all the peace and quiet you can find there.

Since it’s a work of art and part of a temporary project, it was originally designed only for a few years, but luckily there are plans to preserve the site. I hope  we can continue to read between the lines for a long time to come!

More information

50°47’39.25″N – 5°21’6.87″E