by Alan Hope
The Flemish government is to invest €67 million in the ambitious renovation of the Ghent opera house, heritage minister Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) announced.
Last December it was announced that the London-based bureau DRDH Architect had been engaged to design the new project, which will turn the grey, faceless building into an open terrace, while the interior is transformed into a space with a variety of concert venues.
The bureau previously worked on the concert site De Bijloke in Ghent.
The opera house dates from 1840. The main hall was last renovated in the 1990s, and no longer meets modern concert expectations, said Opera Ballet Vlaanderen. The renovation will deal with acoustics as well as audience comfort. The plans also include enlarging the orchestra pit, to allow a better working space for the musicians.
“I think the main thing is that the opera house will be transformed into a music and performing arts centre,” said Jef Driesen of DRDH.
“The centre will be open to all residents of the city of Ghent and beyond. A lot of possibilities will be added that are in a way separate from the existing opera hall.”
Diependaele made it clear the government is aware that such a substantial investment is coming at a difficult time for the economy.
“As a government, we now have a responsibility, in this uncertain and harsh period, to also take part in such large projects,” he said.
“Projects like these offer employment in sectors that are under attack. A modern opera house can also eventually attract many tourists to Flanders.”
The city of Ghent will also contribute, by buying up the former court building adjoining the opera house, which will then be incorporated into the renovation.
“That building that is still used by the courts will be transformed into the backstage area for the entire music and performing arts centre,” Driesen said.
“The existing backstage area will be demolished. There will also be a new tower building with a small hall that looks out over the city.”
Works are due to begin in 2024, and will last four years.