Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem
and Marie-José Van Hee


Light filters through hundreds of rectangular slits into this towering market hall in Ghent, Belgium, which is is one of the five finalists for the Mies van der Rohe Award 2013 (photos by Hufton + Crow).

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Designed by Belgian studios Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee, the dual-gabled timber and concrete structure references the gabled forms of a nearby town hall to provide a grand shelter between the gothic structures of a church and belfry in the centre of the city.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

The site had formally served as a car park, but the architects have paved over the ground surfaces to create a new public square.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

The 40-metre-long Market Hall stretches across the square and is open on all sides, allowing pedestrians to enter from any direction.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Four chunky concrete feet support the asymmetric roof at each of its corners.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Glass squares clad the exterior surfaces of the building to protect the timber from the elements.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

A fireplace is positioned inside one of the concrete feet for use during an annual festival and lets smoke out through a chimney in the roof.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

The building was named on the shortlist for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture in January, alongside a nursing home in Portugal, a concert hall in Iceland, a timber canopy in Spain and a city park in Denmark.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Other market buildings completed in recent years include a concrete fish market in Istanbul and a farmers' market shelter in Virginia. See more markets on Dezeen.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

See more photography by Hufton + Crow on Dezeen or on the photographers' website.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Here's a project description from Robbrecht en Daem Architecten:

Market Hall & Central Squares Ghent, 1996-2012

Following two demolition campaigns for a world exhibition in 1913 and an administrative centre never built in the 60s, Ghent's historic heart degenerated for decades into a desolate parking lot in between a suite of three adjoining Gothic towers.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

In two consecutive competitions between 1996 and 2005, Robbrecht en Daem architecten and Marie-José Van Hee architects proposed their own programme, countering the initial competition requirement.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Rather than just providing an open space for events, they sought, by meticulously positioning a market hall, to rectify this deficiency and reinstate the presence of old urban areas that had become unrecognisable.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

The building positions itself between Poeljemarkt, Goudenleeuwplein, and a new lower 'green' connecting to the 'brasserie', bicycle park and public toilets below the hall. And although the building clearly occupies a position on the 24,000m2 site, it fits in well.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

Compared to St. Nicholas Church, Belfry and Cathedral, it assumes the heights of a lower group of buildings such as the adjacent town hall, from which it derives, mathematically, its profile.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

As an urban interior, the inside embraces the passer-by with a dual modulated wooden ceiling, whose small windows scatter light inwards.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

The exterior, the entire building in fact, seems to assume a respectful role relative to the nobler historic stone buildings, by using a wooden, almost humble, finish.

Market Hall by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee

A glass envelope protects the wood and provides a soft shine, with the sky reflected, integrated. Large buffer basins to absorb rainwater, principles of low energy consumption for the brasserie, use of truly natural materials, the contribution of public transport and a clear vision about giving new value to the historic centre with its old spatial structures, are just parts that broadly flesh out 'sustainability' for the future. The centre of Ghent will again become a social spot for people.

  • selz

    Just an awesome building! But what the hell have you done with the chimney!?

    • zappymax

      Yes, the flat end of the chimney seems strange next to so many inclined surfaces.

      The design invisible inside a column could be understood, but why is the upper end not also made less visible? For instance why not place the end inside an upper corner of the roof, with the eventual fumes/smoke exiting from the same roof or something like that?

  • marco

    I used to come very often to Gent – it’s a wonderful city and I know the square well (before this intervention). I see the richness in details and materials and the enormous efford that went into this. But at the same time it seems very heavy and very present, and it worries me a bit. So, dear Belgians, anyone with first-hand experience – does it work or did Gent end up with an enormous decorated elephant hiding its city hall?

    • K.G.

      I live only 200m away from this building. It is heavy and big indeed, they used to many materials. It’s very pretentious and too expensive. It has no function at all and it’s windy. I’m not the only one thinking like that over here. I have to say it looks nicer in the pictures than it is. Greetings from Ghent.

      • M M

        I completely disagree (living only 1000m away and make detours to see it more often).

        It is a big building, but the square is big as well. The surrounding buildings are even bigger. Making the building smaller would mean that it would be lost in the square. A lot of people dislike the concrete posts that carry the roof, because they are ‘big’. They are functional (some of them contain ventilation for the restaurant underneath the square) and again: smaller columns would be too futile.

        The perspectives on the building from the nearby streets and squares are amazing. Giving interesting peaks on the Belfort tower and hiding the ugly façade of the town hall. I don’t get why people are always complaining that there’s too much materials used. Building these days is a story of layers and layers and layers of material. In this case: concrete columns, a steel framed roof and a wooden finish. The glass tiles are an extra layers which isn’t necessary, but the city council wanted an extra protection against the elements.

        But I have to agree: the photos look nicer because of the long shutter time.

        • squirrel

          The building is in the middle, it’s central. It is not a matter of being big or small alone. It has something to do with the heavy energy which comes out of it. It is a very nice idea to build a kind of market, a modern one (but please, in use) but this is so heavy, so artificially constructed without a visible need, so overloaded with materials that do not bring more meaning or beauty. It is just a rhinoceros that was thought of as being a light grey heron, but it did not work. Shame on you, architects to give this to the community.

      • squirrel


        I am an absolute fan of architecture. Unfortunately, this building is an absolute missed chance! I totally agree with you. Those architects, although they have ‘name’, do not have an international level. A lot of bravura, yes, a lot of looking what is new on the market but absolutely no feeling how to integrate a building in a town without visually ‘killing’ all the other buildings around – and ‘killing’, ‘not allowing to breathe’ the environment around, is exactly what all bad architecture does. It is just personal pretention, nothing more.

        Photographs are absolutely misleading in this case: they make the space look bigger and the building smaller. I was SHOCKED and in TEARS the first time I saw the building and I absolutely adore modern architecture and the way it can integrate itself in a historical urban landscape.

        Mies van der Rohe prize? Makes me laugh. If they win it then it must be because they have the ‘right ‘ connections.

    • M M

      As you can see, there is a discussion between the people of Ghent. The biggest critics all seem to forget that it was an ordinary parking lot, an empty space in the middle of the city center (now a modern city square with a park, a pub, a restaurant and an event hall). Also forgetting that it was always windy when standing near one of Ghent’s famous three towers.

      Marco, come and visit! Then you can decide for yourself.

    • Lorens

      I live in Gent too and I have to agree with an earlier post: in the pictures it looks great, but in real life it is more a pretentious building blocking the view of a historical, more interesting surrounding. This building would ve been much better placed in a park outside of the city (or a huge park inside of the city), but now it’s more like the pink elephant in the middle of the room.

      • BaBs

        A Stadshal (city hall) “in a park outside of the city”? You’re completely missing the point here.

        “Pretentious”? Far from it. Both materials and volumes are very humble. They accentuate, not disturb, the rich historic architecture.

        “Blocking the view”? On the contrary. The perfect setting invites the visitor to discover new, surprising perspectives on the surrounding buildings.

  • pedro

    This a perfect example how to think properly. Beautiful form, totally respects the surroundings, proper use, well detailed – fantastic job!

  • Markus

    Well done!

  • Tyler

    Who pays for something like this?!

    • jos

      Daniel Termont

  • Nick

    Stunning. Image 2, where the valley comes down to meet the peak in one of the shorter elevations at a point… so nice! Would love to see some detailed drawings.

    • Nick

      Oh, and the glass planes on the outerward facing parts of the roof that extend past the inner facing roof pitch – nice!

  • Jasio

    Plus: some nice details
    Minus: look at the picture from flight perspective, the building is way to heavy and big
    Minus: this form has no nobility, in 10 years it will be old fashioned

    Overal score: minus. Bad building, waste of money.

  • nmg

    Interesting building. But to spend a fortune on GLASS to protect WOOD?

  • Patrick V

    As you can read this building caused a lot of commotion in Ghent, most of the people don’t like it, but i think it succeeded quite well!

    You have to know, before it used to be a parking spot there were buildings on the place of the market hall, and there used to be three squares. Officially there were still three squares, but by being one big place most of the people experienced it at one place.

    Another argument that I’ve heard quite often is that you have lost the views on the city hall and the St. Niklaas church. I don’t see this as a point since historically there were also buildings.

    The only thing I dislike is the concrete construction with the bell (picture 5-15-17)
    they intended to hang a much bigger & heavier bell in it, but finally they put a smaller one in it.

    And finally one of the main reasons why they built this is that there are a lot of events in this area (mainly in the square in front of the St. Baafs Cathedral, next to it) and they intend it to use it for that as well.

  • heavenairport

    Good intentions, but comes off looking a bit twee. And yes, even in the pictures, looks like a gently pompous over-use of materials. Just because it was an ‘ordinary parking lot’ doesn’t mean it should have a new building with no regular apparent purpose.

    Having said that it wouldn’t be the first and won’t be the last.

    • M M

      Ah, the purpose: this hall is a public forum. You can do what ever you like with it: give a performance, meet people, host events… this place gives a lot of opportunities! The sky is the limit. For example: next weekend (Saturday 27th of April) there will be an unicycle race under and around the building!

      So the purpose, for me, is hosting cultural events and allowing people to enjoy themselfs even more in one of the most beautiful city centers Belgium has to offer!

  • At a recent visit to Gent, I found the building quite uninviting and nondescript. In reality it’s much darker than the photography suggests.

  • rik

    Photos look nice, but they are a lie. This building is awful.

  • mil

    Ugly building… depressing and oversized. It is a roof and nothing more. I don’t understand how people think is good. The worst building in years.

  • mil

    Ugly building. The functionality here is quite lost on this oversized roof.

  • Bie

    I live in Ghent and I love it. The parking lot was very ugly and now we have this imaginative building that gives a real extra to the city. And I think it is better to have a building that makes you take a stand than to have a building there that nobody likes or dislikes.

  • studio

    Where there’s smoke… lose the chimney.

  • BaRa

    The building is a keystone in the restructuring process of the historic city centre. Before this building, we had a parking lot. Ugly as hell, served no purpose, reminded people of what happened in Brussels in the sixties (when they bulldozed complete city blocks for “modern development” which were only realized 50 years after the fact).

    Before that, it was just a bunch of regular buildings, blocking the view on all key historic buildings. Today, you have a modern building with a typical classicistic richess in materials, and a shape that is reminiscent of medieval constructions. And about it not serving a purpose: can you please tell me what purpose the three churches and the belfry nowadays have, except attracting tourists and creating a cityscape?

    The stadshal is a durable addition to the urban fabric and the one piece that was missing in Ghent to complete the view on medieval architecture that European society has been developing for the last 100 years.

  • Laurent