State Archives, Ghent, Belgium

The volume for the State Archives, located in the city center, is meticulously matched to the scale of the surrounding buildings. The sturdy corner building respects the pattern of the street onto which it fronts, while the long horizontal volume behind adheres to the cornice height of the surrounding streets and alleys. At the end of the horizontal wing, the facade is set back from the plot boundary. This makes space available for a small public square in the midst of this dense 19th-century urban setting and extends a welcoming hand to passersby. 
The public parts of the building face this more intimate urban space. The glass façade welcomes visitors and leads them to the building behind, where both the administration offices and the public reading rooms are located in relative seclusion. In the reading room, books and archive documents can be consulted under a field of sculptural skylights. In the office space, users look out over the street through large windows. The building thus works in two ways: while the volume creates a sense of openness by receding from the dense urban fabric, the narrow alleyways give the workspaces their special intimacy.
Part of the archive is housed in the corner volume, but the mass of the over 40km worth of archival documentation is stored in two identical underground levels. The underground archive is placed in a doubled concrete shell that forms the foundation of the building and allows for specific climatic conditions to be maintained.
The white brick facades with their pale ceramic layer give the building a light and explicit luminosity in the diverse cityscape and narrow street scene. The rounded edges of the towering corner volume reference Henry van de Velde’s design of the university building a few streets away. The architects transform the massive, closed nature of the archive into a point of interest through the crucial placement of concrete lintels. The concrete elements are applied as a decorative layer to the blind facade and are best understood as a supplement, as a poetic gesture. The lintels – though not accessible and therefore hardly usable – refer to the shelves of the cabinets where the archive documents are kept. They are reminiscent of the architectural sculptures – 'balconies' and 'banisters' – by Juan Muñoz. Despite their apparent superfluity, the ornamental elements are necessary. They give rhythm to the façade and provide an element of scale which makes the façade legible again in relation to the city.
Client
Kairos NV
Architects
Robbrecht en Daem architecten
Program
Ghent State Archives
Location
Ghent, Belgium
Date
2010–2014
Status
Completed
Floor Surface
10.777 m2
Team
Paul Robbrecht, Hilde Daem, Johannes Robbrecht, Kim Poorters, Veronique Clarebout, Tom De Moor, Wim Voorspoels
Execution Architect
Arch & Teco Architecture & Planning
Structural Engineering
B.CEC
Services Engineering
VK Engineering
Acoustics
Venac
Landscape
Robbrecht en Daem architecten
Procedure
Design, Build, Finance, Maintain
Contractor
Interbuild
Transport & Mobility
Vectris
Technical Control
Seco