One of Louvain la Neuve’s most iconic buildings becomes a museum

In the Belgian city of Louvain-la-Neuve, one of the most iconic university buildings has become an expansive museum for art and education.

Originally designed by architect André Jacqmain, the science and technology library at the University of Louvain (Université catholique de Louvain, UCL) is one of the most iconic buildings on the university campus, and in the city of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.  With such a vibrant building at the heart of the university, it should come as no surprise that when UCL was struggling to find a new home for its expanding museum, they turned to the library, offering the unique space a new lease of life. The building’s new title: Le Musée L.

Architect André Jacqmain designed the original building in 1973; architecturally, it is characteristic of a ‘sculptural concrete’ atypical style. However, this style was not conductive to housing a museum - the space had to be carefully transformed in order to preserve the details of the building, whilst still allowing for a new purpose. The exceptional space was renovated for two and a half years by a team of UCL architects, whose brief was to improve readability in internal spaces, create opportunities for natural lighting and install visitor amenities.

Highlighting the concrete structures of the internal space became integral to the work, and the UCL architects in charge of the renovation even sought advice from André, as the original architect – who was delighted by the idea of renovating what was previously a scientific library. Keeping to their central concept, the design retained the rough concrete of the original structure and used steel and black elements to create contrast within the space.

After the success of the renovation, and having moved around 32,000 objects into the space, the Musée L officially opened in November 2017. The new museum – over half of which is open to the general public – now prides itself on three special features: creating a dialogue between the artwork; exhibiting scientific and educational collections that belong to UCL; and opening up three laboratories where visitors can touch and feel the collections.

With an astounding collection – including artworks by Rembrandt, Goya and Picasso – the Musée L is also the first large scale university museum in Belgium. UCL’s wish is for the museum to act as a ‘guesthouse’, which is a “welcoming place open to all”. A centre of knowledge and inspiration for UCL students, the museum features a diverse range within its collection, from Modern art, Antiquity, Non-European objects and Etchings.

The new spaces within the extraordinary building have been designed with collaboration in mind, allowing students, professors, and the public to study and discuss the exhibitions. “The Musée L, as I see it, is a place for special meetings,” explains Anne Querinjean, the Musée L director. “It involves 3 components: a building that is a significant architectural achievement, astonishing collections, and visitors from all backgrounds and their culture. As museum director and part of a team, our challenge was to bring these three components so they could harmonise together, resonate and dialogue with one another”.

All images: © Jeroen Verrecht

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