On Monday, June 30, the new Bierger-Center in Luxembourg City’s Guillaume Square officially opened its doors. The transformation, renovation, and expansion of this historically significant group of structures was done by STEINMETZDEMEYER architects and the engineers of InCA Ingénieurs Conseils Associés (general coordination) through intelligent and subtle dialogue with contemporary styles.
Alternately a sanctuary for the Dominicans of Marienthal in the 17th century, the seat of the International Bank, then a residence hall for girls run by the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth, it was only in 2003 that the Luxembourg City acquired this group of buildings that neighbors the Hôtel de Ville. These structures are quite large, and are unequaled in their cultural significance. It was therefore decided to make the buildings home to the Bierger-Center which was supposed to be moved from the Hamilius Tower, in light of the Royal-Hamilius project, to the ground floor of the neighboring building during the period of work. Following a contest held in 2006, the architects of STEINMETZDEMEYER gained the challenging opportunity to work on this complex and historic group of buildings, which is classified as a national monument.
An Extensive Program
The program included several areas of work: the Bierger-Center is a one-stop shop for citizens of Luxembourg City, where they can carry out a large number of administrative processes relating to their residential status. It includes a welcome center, civil registry services, counters, offices and meeting rooms, but it also features a new wing housing a ceremony hall, a glass walkway, a small private garden, as well as a group of five housing units that the city will rent out beginning in September 2014. The entire project was carried out within the 22.7 million Euro budget.
A Historic Section Preserved and Highlighted
Before work could begin, a very important preliminary study had to be done by the architecture firm in order to precisely identify which elements had historic and cultural value. Indeed, the group of buildings had undergone several modifications, and certain parts were found to be adulterated, in terms of heritage. “Since we are in a protected zone, we had to submit our project to UNESCO experts before beginning work. Two experts carefully studied our file before expressing their approval of our actions, and one was even very enthusiastic about it,” explains Nico Steinmetz. A study of the building’s frame allowed the architects to see that the heart of the block could be modified. Thus, they made the radical choice to demolish some sections, while conserving what needed to be conserved, therefore offering the possibility to introduce a contemporary section with lots of light to the center of the complex. This is where two axes emerge: a main east-west axis that links the Hôtel de Ville to the Bierger-Center via the new walkway, and a secondary north-south axis that joins the entry of Guillaume II square to Notre-Dame Street.
At the crossing of these two axes lies the new patio, which serves as the main waiting space, and is bathed in natural light thanks to a glass roof. Visitors can, from this point of view, see the entire articulation of the complex. Vertical movement on four floors is made visible thanks to the newly added system of walkways. This system of “indoor roads” was designed by the architects to discreetly and efficiently display all of the technical skills used for the project while avoiding irreversible and ungraceful encroachment into the historic rooms. It was a painstaking and difficult task to preserve the cultural heritage. The intervention of several artisans and specialists was necessary for the restoration of the ancient rooms. Stucco, paintings, woodwork, ironwork, and floors were restored with respect for historic substance. Therefore we can find a handsome small room, a large meeting room with visible carpentry, and workspaces that respect the dimensions of the historic rooms. And so, the building’s culturally significant elements were able to preserved so that the public may appreciate them in all of their value.
In addition to the restoration of this architectural heritage, contemporary expansions were added. From now on, one enters the Bierger-Center by way of a new entrance found on Guillaume II square that connects the historic part of the ancient “Veräinshaus” with the new ceremony hall and a walkway that, like an umbilical cord, is a symbolic link between officials and the people. Created in collaboration with Ney & Partners, who have much experience with works of art, it is made entirely of glass and begins in the frame of a window in the Hôtel de Ville continuing until the entry to the Bierger-Center. It is covered with a linear silkscreen print that also serves as solar protection. “The line is the central motif of the project. You find it in the walkway as well as in the structure and the silkscreen print, and even in hallways and waiting areas in the form of wooden slats on the wall that also have acoustic functions,” says Nico Steinmetz
The other important element of these additions is the new ceremony hall that will serve marriages and civil unions. “With the new ceremony hall, we want to create a unique space, a piece of architecture that will be memorable.” There is also a small private garden extending from the other side of the walkway. The marriage hall in the Hôtel de Ville will remain active. “The contemporary additions were designed with honesty. We don’t want to imitate historic styles. When you look at this style of architecture, you are supposed to immediately see what is contemporary and what is ancient,” says the architect.
The apartments overlooking the Guillaume II square are yet to be completed. “It was important to us to build the apartments in a structure overlooking the square and not overlooking the roofs, as was stated in the contest announcement. The future occupants will therefore truly be able to live in the square, something that we as urbanists took to heart,” concludes Nico Steinmetz.
In your opinion does contrasting bold, modern sections with the preserved historic sections of an architectural ensemble bring out the best of both new and old?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.