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Sint-Maarten GH reveals the new campus’ integrated work of art

Last Sunday, Sint-Maarten GH in Mechelen unveiled the work of art that will partly give the new hospital’s façade its appearance. The work of art was already visible the past couple of weeks, as it envelops the entire central backbone of the hospital. The work by artist Koen van den Broek has become an integrated part of the building, designed by VK Architects & Engineers.

Hospitals are strongly interwoven with our lives, from birth to death. It’s architecture for people, with people and realised by people. For VK Architects & Engineers, it’s important that the architecture reflects this social status by means of a number of design principles. Visibility, humanity and functionality all are present in the design of the new Sint-Maarten GH. The work of art completely fits into this vision, as a substantial and integrated part of a healing environment and of the architectural expression.

In the first instance, the hospital was conceived as an object in the landscape. Both orientation, materials, volumetrics and accessibility are aimed at an optimal integration into the landscape. The compactness also ensures a human-scale building. In addition, the waving solar protection lends the hospital a playful, and also fragile element: a second skin, protecting patients and personnel.

The circulation street as a life line

Within the entire complex, the circulation axis has a central role as point of reference and point of departure. This life line connects all wings on all levels. Point of reference implies views, which implies transparency. So the axis is fully glazed. With a north-eastern orientation, one side of the axis looks towards the town of Mechelen, the other side towards the rural landscape beyond the R6 ringway passing nearby.

The glazing creates an architectural tension asking for more. VK had already integrated coloured accents in the competition design. In a later design phase, glass printing was considered as a work of art. Technology was tested, as the glass skin also had to become a solar protective skin. So when the question arose of the approach for the legally imposed work of art (in Flanders, 1% of the construction budget has to be spent on a work of art), there was absolutely no doubt: the central circulation axis would serve as a canvas. In collaboration with the arts cell Flemish Government Architect, an artist was found having a strong affinity with architecture.

From urban to interior

VK Architects & Engineers, in close collaboration with the hospital management, suggested that the work of art should function on various levels, from an urban element to an interior element. As an urban element, the graphical work is projected towards the landscape and the town. End-users of the hospital experience the work of art in a more fragmented way, from a patio or a room. Or from behind it, when walking through the circulation street. Artist Koen van den Broek ensured a layered artwork that effortlessly bridges these scale variations.

The end result is a work of art that by far surpasses being a plastic addition to the building. It is an integral part of it, in a very functional way. As such, it completely fits with the design vision of this project and with the overall design approach of VK Architects & Engineers: an integrated design towards an anchored, human-scale and functional healing environment.

Watch artist Koen van den Broek explain his vision and approach. (activate the subtitles)