Design Museum Gent is expanding in the middle of the historic city centre of Ghent. Back in 1922, the then-called Museum voor Sierkunst was housed in the grand 18th century Hotel De Conick with its decorative lounges in Jan Breydelstraat, where it served as a fully-fledged municipal museum from 1958. In the early eighties, the city bought an adjoining historic building in Drabstraat, Huis Leten, as office space. On the occasion of the Chambres d’Amis exhibition in 1986, architect Charles Vandenhove designed the façade with white marble, reminiscent of the removed mullioned windows and the much older structure of the building. The old rear wing of Hotel De Coninck was replaced with a new wing with exhibition rooms designed by architect Willy Verstraete. The historic façade, which forms a harmonious whole with the façades of the front building and wings in the inner courtyard, was maintained. Even though it was already the intention at that time to add another extension on an adjoining plot in Drabstraat, the open space in the street has remained vacant to this day. In addition, there is still no lift in the museum and the sanitary facilities are housed in an improvised construction.
The concept of our design team now adds the long-awaited missing piece of the puzzle of this museum site. Their design for DING – Design in Ghent – is a light monolithic extension which completes the building line, but with the museum opening up into the street. Thanks to the new extension, the existing buildings – one for public, the other for office use – are now connected. Built over two floors, the new extension rises above the cornice of Hotel De Coninck, resulting in extra exhibition space with plenty of natural light and city views. DING forms a sober yet noticeable landmark, a city beacon, clearly visible from Korenmarkt and Graslei.
The concept not only fills the gap in the row of buildings: in line with RE-ST’s championing of reuse and ‘not-building’, we also developed a long-term strategy, as part of which the historic attics will be renovated for museum use. Once the new extension is completed. this, too, will be able to be used autonomously, so that Design Museum Gent will have its long-awaited, contemporary space for co-creation, workshops, talks, debates and exhibitions. The cafe and shop will be an accessible public relaxation area, a ‘third place’. The new house and new look of what will be a Smart Museum will do justice to the old house with its main entrance, its historic period rooms and peaceful city garden in the inner courtyard.