From the vibrant “Eeuwfeestpaleis”… to the dilapidated “Floraliënhal”… and finally to an Urban Green House
in collaboration with partner Tourism Flanders
Kuipke en S.M.A.K.
End of 2023
From the vibrant Eeuwfeestpaleis…
The year was 1913 and the 19th World’s Fair was held in Ghent. To prepare for this major event, the city launched a massive construction and repair programme. The Sint-Pieters station was built to receive the anticipated flood of people. Historic buildings in the city centre were repaired on a massive scale. The old city park between the station and the historic city centre was rebuilt. And, as the pièce de resistance, a cluster of buildings was constructed right in the middle of that Citadel Park, on the site where the Dutch citadel of Ghent once stood: the ‘Eeuwfeestpaleis’ (centenary celebration palace). It was the very first MICE venue in Belgium. Visitors from around the world came here to attend the conventions and conferences at the World’s Fair. It exuded grandeur, ingenuity, and ambition.
The organisers of the World’s Fair consistently opted to keep historical heritage in their conceptualisation, as well as… flowers. It was a striking choice and one that had to be seen as a ‘counter-response’ to the industrialised society, an ‘antidote’ to the pollution, and a ‘soothing balm’ for the hard life of a labourer and the often difficult living conditions.
At this point in time, the Ghent floral industry had been the world leader for decades. Created in 1774, when the Ghent gardener Frans Van Cassel decided to import exotic plants to Ghent to start cultivating them here, it turned Ghent into the flower city par excellence in the 19th century. Ghent’s ornamental growers were famous for their innovation, their outstanding craftsmanship, and their constant search for perfection. For example, people continued to work towards improving the azalea so as to create the ultimate flower. But their international breakthrough only came with the arrival of the World’s Fair. The floral industry put its knowledge and expertise on display in the Eeuwfeestpaleis’s exhibition space for the whole world to see. Thousands of square metres of exhibition space, under a unique, refined steel roof structure right in the middle of a green urban oasis: it was here that the Gentse Floraliën and its Floraliënhal became famous.
… to the dilapidated Floraliënhal…
After the conclusion of the World’s Fair, the intention was to break down the Eeuwfeestpaleis and take the pieces to Kinshasa in the Congo and rebuild it there… But this never happened.
A century later and the Eeuwfeestpaleis has become unrecognisable. History has left its scars. At the end of the 1920s, the greenhouse was converted into the indoor velodrome ’t Kuipke. In the mid-1970s, the original entrance to the Eeuwfeestpaleis was demolished and replaced with the modern convention centre, ICC Gent. At the end of the 1990s, the S.M.A.K., a new and successful Mecca for modern art, arose on the east side of the Eeuwfeestpaleis – just a stone’s throw from its counterpart, the Museum of Fine Arts.
The ICC Gent’s brutalist building was erected as a ‘Centre for Manifestation and Convention’ and houses a multipurpose room with 1,000 seats for concerts and conventions. It also houses the Flanders Trade Centre and Cultural Centre, as well as providing a permanent exhibition space for the ‘International Trade Fair of Flanders’ and yes, even the Gentse Floraliën.
The three buildings – ’t Kuipke, the S.M.A.K., and Gent ICC – became functionally and spatially separated from one another. The imposing yet empty Floraliënhal, which was inaccessible from the other three buildings, functioned as an invisible buffer and separator. It became dilapidated, lost its iconic magnetic function, and all contact with visitors was completely severed.
… and finally to an Urban Green House
The Floraliënhal was restored to its former glory in the following years. It was renovated, made visible again, and opened back up for the Gent ICC convention visitors. It was integrated, spatially and functionally, into the Gent ICC building and its operations. Passageways and views from the Floraliënhal to ’t Kuipke, the S.M.A.K., and the surrounding Citadel Park were also opened up. This way, local residents, (recreational) athletes, museumgoers, and recreational tourists can use the Floraliënhal intensively. This openness ensures that the Floraliënhal once again becomes the beating heart of the convention centre, the velodrome, the museums, the park, and the neighbourhood. It is in this way that Gent ICC will evolve into an Urban Green House, an ecological urban arena in which ideas and people come together – with the Floraliënhal serving as the centralised meeting space.
And thus, Gent ICC becomes a ‘home’. Just as the Eeuwfeestpaleis was a vibrant place in which everyone was welcome back in 1913, Gent ICC becomes a space that exudes a welcoming friendliness, where hospitality is the focus, and where you are pampered as a convention visitor. Gone is the cold shoulder of business, having been replaced by a space where all the possible applications and facilities for conventions are clearly present. We care, unconventionally yours!
> Gent ICC must become a ‘Green House’: the spirit of the Floraliën will be brought back to life by making ecology and sustainability priorities. Treehouses as breakout rooms, meetings with a view of the park, flowers and plants as the defining interior design elements? We’re putting the floral character into every last detail! The Floraliënhal will become a new kind of city park, an enclosed space where urban meeting functions are the focus. The Citadel Park and its unique collection of trees will be extended to the interior and the relationship with Ghent University’s botanical gardens will be strengthened. It will become the central hub for Ghent’s life sciences and biotech scene and will do Ghent’s reputation as the Vegan Capital of Europe proud.
> Gent ICC must become a ‘Green House’. An open, transparent place where private life and work come together. A fertile place where cross-pollination occurs among convention visitors from all around the world. A seedbed for ground-breaking ideas from academic and non-academic environments. A breeding ground where these ideas can find the right soil in which to grow and blossom. A place where craftsmanship, attention, and care are the focus so that these idea seeds are given every opportunity to grow into beautiful, lush, and sometimes exotic flowers and plants. A controlled environment for experimentation and innovation, a lab with a unique climate and ecosystem, separate from and yet in maximum contact with the surrounding setting.
> Gent ICC will also be ‘Urban’. Urban, modern, avant-garde, and pleasant all at the same time. An eccentric place. Fitting in perfectly with the most unique city in Flanders: Ghent, where 1,400 years of history is effortlessly combined with progressive innovation, (bio)industry, an academic paradise, and youthful culture. A place where the functionalist brutalism of Gent ICC harmoniously transitions into the impressiveness of the Floraliënhal and the intimacy of the surrounding Citadel Park. Where concrete, steel, and green space give it an urban green touch that is unique in Flanders and beyond. But also urban because many city functions come together at this historic place that is home to priceless heritage and where diversity is celebrated in all its forms.
‘Urban Green House’ as the catalyst for the City of Ghent and its Arts Quarter
Gent ICC and its ‘Urban Green House’ setting will soon grow into one of the most popular places in Ghent. We live by the principle of ‘localhood’, which is a long-term vision that supports inclusive co-creation of a future destination and where human relationships are the focus. A future destination where human relationships are the focus because the Floraliënhal is to become:
But above all, it is to become the place where knowledge is shared in a state-of-the-art convention center. Embedded in the special academic fabric of Ghent, the ‘Urban Green House’ will strengthen Ghent’s ambitions to become a global player in biosciences and biotechnology, culture, material sciences, and healthcare. As a hub for knowledge and meetings, ideas originating from all around the world will be exchanged in Gent ICC in a lush, green environment. Just as was the case with the original Eeuwfeestpaleis during the 1913 World’s Fair…