Brigittines Theatre: A harmonious extension in weathering steel

The extension project of the Brigittines Theatre for reuse, realised in the city of Brussels by the Italian architect Andrea Bruno in collaboration with the Belgian study SUM Project, combines the construction of a new building with the renovation of a small baroque church dating back to 1663.

Detailed information

When restoration brings a new building back to life

Abandoned for a long time and in ruins, the building was acquired by a group of avant-garde artists who used the spaces available for their activities, expressing a clear desire for innovative renovation. The old baroque church, in former days part of a convent and surrounded by gardens both now demolished, is situated just a few metres from a multi-storey building constructed without the consideration of its existing environment. The aim of the planning team, after having conducted analysis, investigations, and drawn up sketches, was to make the facade of the small church stand out against the large building behind it.

The architectural solution was therefore to restore the existing elements and provide the building with a new function and vitality. The project idea consisted of doubling or 'cloning' the existing architecture of the church, converting it into a historical monument yet though alive and useful, as an active part of our civilization.

Weathering steel as the protagonist of architecture

The material used turned into the protagonist of this restoration project: the weathering steel, in the form of Indaten® from ArcelorMittal. This material became an authentic basic construction material as it once was copper. Its peculiarity is to actually 'feel' how time is passing: it changes and develops a patina over the years, which contributes aesthetically and functionally to the integration in the architectonic context.

The choice of this material with its warm colour and special surface characteristics, however, is not only linked to its capacity of aging, but derives from the desire to give the new building a warm appearance, changing with the light and imitating the traditional materials of stone and brick used for the church.

Apart from the new building, the entire rear part of the old church is completely enveloped in Indaten® steel, while the front remains in brick and stone.

The architectural and technological aspects

The new seven storey building constructed in direct proximity to the church houses all the facilities required by the group of artists for their activities. Between the two buildings, a staircase was built allowing access to all seven floors of the new building.

The front facade is made of folded steel sheets, while panels were used for the sides. The folded metal sheets, 5 mm thick, are attached on an internal steel lattice in order to obtain a completely even surface.

The architectural form of the building, similar to a large metal box, responds to a precise function: on the top floor there is the rehearsal room with advanced technological equipment and 40 cm thick sound-absorbing walls in order to insulate from the external noise originating from the high-speed train to Brussels that passes only a few hundred metres away.

Careful attention was also paid to small architectural and technological details that have contributed significantly to the new context: an example is the fissure that can be seen in the facade panels, obtained by folding the material so as to make visible the windows of the Baroque part. A spotlight installed within this opening illuminates the building at night, giving it a very soft glow.

The completion of the building charmingly copies the shape of the nearby church, and the white top is made of stainless steel.

In conclusion

After the completion of the building, it can be seen not only how the total surface of the church could be duplicated thanks to the new construction, but also how the theatre now stands out against the reinforced concrete grid building in the background – its architecture creating at the same time dialogue and contrast with the existing environment.

The architectural design has in fact tried to solve the problem of the contrast between 'old' and 'new' in a consistent, harmonious, and almost 'soft' way: small tricks and masterly use of materials, which although unquestionably contemporary (steel in general and in particular weathering steel), establish a dialogic relation with tradition and the existent structures.

Project information

  • Brussels
  • Belgium
  • Architect: Andrea Bruno, TorinoSUM Project, Brussels
  • 2007
  • Engineering Firm:
    Ney & Partners SA (structure)
    Gei (installations)
    Seco (technical control)
    Venac (acoustics)
  • Contractor:
    Denys NV