As the Belgian town of Mons starts its year as European Capital of Culture, architect Daniel Libeskind has completed a convention centre with a golden metal exterior and a sharply pointed prow (+ slideshow).
The Mons International Congress Centre is the first of several projects planned in the city over the course of the year, and will serve as a venue some of the planned cultural events taking place – from performances and talks to parties.
Daniel Libeskind's design for the 12,500-square-metre building consists of two volumes that appear to have collided – the first is a elliptical structure clad with a lattice of Robinia wood, while the overlapping second block boasts a skin of champagne-toned anodised aluminium.
The New York-based architect describes it "an expression of contrasting geometric forms".
"We used simple, yet dramatic, design gestures, local materials and a flexible program for this modest gem of a building," said Libeskind." We hope the new centre brings a fresh dynamic to this area of revitalisation in Mons."
Completed in collaboration with local firm H2a Architects, the building features a viewing platform offering a vantage point over the city. Here, visitors can spy a 17th-century belfry, the La Haine river and the construction site for a new train station by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
The entrance is located on the north corner of the building. Both the timber and aluminium surfaces appear to have been lifted up along this edge, revealing a strip of glazing where the entrance sits within a protruding metal box.
Just around the corner, the metal-clad upper section of the building form a dramatic point that is reminiscent of many Libeskind buildings, from the Dresden Museum of Military History to his media centre for the City University of Hong Kong.
There are few windows in this metallic surface, so as not to disrupt the visual impact of the volume. The ones that were added have been covered with slats to help them blend in.
The building's interior is organised as a spiral, centred around a double-height entrance lobby. Slender curving skylights help to bring daylight into this crescent-shaped space.
The concrete floor is inlaid with crisscrossing stripes of Belgian bluestone – a motif continued from the landscaping that forms the building's new surrounds.
At the far end of this hall, a sculptural staircase made up of angular planes marks the entrance to three auditoriums.
The largest has 500 seats, while the other two have room for 200 and 100 spectators. All three are fitted with orange Tangram seating, which Libeskind designed for furniture brand Poltrona Frau.
Other facilities include a 380-square-metre events hall, 16 conference rooms, offices and a restaurant. There is also a planted terrace beside the rooftop viewing platform.
Photovoltaic cells cover large sections of the roof to help the building generate much of its own electricity. The structure also integrates passive solar shading.
"For me sustainable building is not a new design trend or an added feature, it is about common sense and quality," said Libeskind. "If you build in the right way using high-quality materials, innovation and technology, you will create something long lasting and sustainable."
The Mons Congress Centre officially opened its doors on 9 January.
Photography is by Hufton + Crow, apart from where otherwise indicated.