Sweco Belgium: Machelen is a picturesque village along an old bend of the river Lys. The public space adjacent to the church along the riverbank was the central place in the village economy. Here the goods were moved from and to the riverboats. The layout of the village, central squares and the church, was intrinsically linked with the river. The main transportation and manufacturing activities associated with this riverside location were discontinued in the second half of the 20th century. Since then, life has gone on quietly, although the village has not always stayed true to its roots. The square at the river bank became a desolate parking lot and the contact with the river was lost. New urban developments shifted the centre of gravity towards the main road and the old houses around the central places deteriorated. The opening of the Raveel museum is what enhanced the attractiveness of Machelen and brought in new visitors and activities. The museum is an example of a discrete but powerful intervention by modern architecture; it put the village back on the map and encouraged the private renovations in the village.
Nowadays, the challenge is to find a sustainable balance between developing tourism and safeguarding the quality of life for the inhabitants. The design of the public space was therefore developed with the participation with the inhabitants. The interventions in the central public realm of the village are aimed resurrecting the intrinsic logic of the village layout and public space. The orientation towards the river and the creation of possibilities for social interaction are the main principles of the renovation, as part of the aim of reducing the monopoly of the use of the squares as car parks.
Sweco Belgium redesigned the main squares and small streets in the centre of the village as a coherent and connected public area. Two squares restore the link with the river. The use of natural stones for all public space creates a unity in perception of the network of pedestrian streets and squares. The uniformity is broken in an informal way by the irregular pattern in the pavement, which has been achieved by using stones of six different sizes. In both squares, only a limited number of strips are paved regularly. They are perpendicular to the square, forming gutters that delineate the remaining few parking places. The main parking facilities have been moved to the entrances of the village. On the central square near the church, the views on the river and the green open space have been restored. To keep the space open, only four trees were planted: three Gleditsia triancanthos ‘Sunburst’, with a small and transparent tree crown and one Morus alba ‘Fruitless’, a tree that is depicted in the town’s coat of arms. A ramp provides the opportunity to relax near the river bank and to approach the water’s surface. In the narrow streets, the pavement goes uninterrupted from door to door, giving the street back to its inhabitants. On another square in the heart of the village, a fountain offers a playful element. The waterjets of the fountain form a right-angled pattern and fill this slightly incised plane with water. The reflection of this surface refers to the mirror in the so-called “Wall of Imagination”, a creation by the Belgian artist Sir Roger Raveel.
The redevelopment of the public realm in Machelen is revitalising social interaction in the village. The redesigned squares enhance the quality of life in downtown Machelen and invite a stroll to the river. The square has become once again the public space par excellence and reactivated community life. The local people participated in the inauguration of the reconstructed squares and many fairs now take place on the squares. Today, the ‘Big Jump’ takes place from the ramp at the waterfront. At the same time, the reorganisation of parking places at the entrance of the village and the well paved public realm of the small streets welcomes the new visitors to the town and quietly asks them to visit the village discretely. The project is not extremely trendy and stylish but has been built on the scale of the inhabitants. It wants to make good public space: proper natural pavement, bringing the people to the water, creating a resting place at the waterfront. The waterfront is being brought once again to the fore of the collective consciousness.
Chief author: Sweco Belgium and Christian Kieckens Architects bvba
Other members & Profession: Kristof Van Impe (landscape architect), Thomas Timmermans (engineer), Wim Marquenie (architect), Christian Kieckens (architect)
Name: Renovation of the village centre of Machelen-aan-de-Leie
Project design date: 2005-2008
Construction completion date: 2008-2009
Location / City / Region / Country: Machelen-aan-de-Leie, 9870 Zulte, Oost-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
Project manager: Grontmij Vlaanderen NV
Construction company: Cochuyt – De Smet
Client (Public Administration, Private Company,..) Gemeente Zulte, Centrumstraat 10, B-9870 Zulte