From medieval ward to concert hall with excellent acoustics.
At the beginning of the 13th century, an institution for the poor, sick and travellers, the Maria Hospital, was erected in Ghent. It soon moved to the Bijlokemeersen, a piece of land outside the city. This prompted the name change from Maria Hospital to Bijloke. 800 years later, the old infirmary has been transformed into the iconic concert hall that is De Bijloke Music Centre. A unique, world-class achievement.
Never could the Cistercian nuns of the 13th century have imagined that in the very same place where the sick would be cared for down the centuries, in hardly suitable medical conditions, spectators would one day greatly enjoy the best concert experiences in a sublime setting. World-renowned acousticians, architects and restoration experts were commissioned to bring that transformation to fruition. The result is a blend of ancient and brand-new that deserves to be seen and heard. Both the audience and the musicians themselves speak very highly of it.
Excellent acoustics, visibility and seating comfort
All manner of ingenious technical interventions have improved the acoustics, the seating comfort and the view of the musicians on the stage. The latter was moved forward so that even the back rows almost had the impression they were sitting on the musicians' laps. If the 720 auditorium seats are occupied, you might be left with a seat on one of the 110 choir stall seats with a perfect view of the stage. The story goes that an entire Walloon oak forest was cut down for the grandiose ceiling in the 13th century. For a hospital ward, the heavy wooden trusses of the roof were suitable for muffling the sound; for a concert hall, more was needed. This was met on the one hand by excavating the floor in front of the stage and the gallery by 1.20 m in relation to the rest of the auditorium so as to create a larger volume, and on the other by covering the walls, which had become crooked over the centuries, with some beautiful new panelling. From now on the sound, would no longer be reflected upwards, but the balance between absorption and reflection would be just right. By the way, some carefully adjusted reflection panels above the stage guarantee that the musicians themselves are also treated to some wonderful reverberation. Even the Italian luxury-upholstered chairs for the audience contribute to this, with their wooden handrail and underside.
After experiencing such a concert, you will undoubtedly be in the right mood to have a chat with one of the artists in the café or foyer. Both spaces were decorated in a contemporary and ecological manner by the Ghent-based collective ONBETAALBAAR and the Antwerp-based Studio Helder. Afterwards, you can pick up your coat in the historic chapel, now the cloakroom.