Focus on culture, sustainability, and heritage: ambitious design highlights arts house at AC Groenplein!

In the autumn of 2024, the first works can commence for the transformation of the former administrative centre Groenplein into a new home for professional arts. After an extensive selection process, the Hasselt city administration has partnered with the Debuild consortium for this project. The design combines cultural ambitions with a sustainable complex, respecting the existing heritage. By the autumn of 2026, the theatre hall, two cinema halls, rehearsal spaces, and a rooftop bar are set to open their doors.

What was proposed in 2019 as one of the key focal points of the new Hasselt city administration is soon becoming a reality. Over the past years, efforts have been made to find a new cultural destination for the former administrative centre at Groenplein. With four experienced arts organizations already on board, the city of Hasselt has spent the past few months searching for a construction partner capable of realizing these ambitious plans. Debuild, bringing together contractor Democo and architects Archiles - ebtca architects, emerged as the best-suited for the project.

Iconic facade preserved 
The design team addressed two major questions: housing a flat-floor hall with seating, two cinema halls, creative spaces, and a cultural café within the current area, while also ensuring the known cityscape of AC for future generations. The design by Hasselt architect Louis Ghysebrechts was groundbreaking during its construction in 2019 and is one of Belgium's prime examples of Brutalism. The design team maximally preserves the facade and the building. In this part of the new arts house, so-called low-tech functions (offices, dressing rooms, foyer, cultural café) will be accommodated. A new section will be seamlessly integrated into the complex on the side of the building, where high-tech functions (cinema, theatre hall, rehearsal spaces) will be housed.

"Our strategy to combine old and new, low- and high-tech, makes this special repurposing climate-friendly and inviting. Above all, it preserves and enhances the architectural value of the building. Moreover, additional shell spaces will offer potential for future creative developments in a vibrant city like Hasselt. Ultimately, it will become a space used throughout the day for creation, talent development, presentation, and experience," says Frederik Bijnens, CEO of Democo.

"With four Hasselt-based, structurally recognized arts organizations Het nieuwstedelijk, B-Classic, Cinema ZED, and Vonk, we bring together various disciplines under one roof. Whether you love theatre, music, film, or performance: visitors can find art and culture every day of the week, year-round. The organizations will not only showcase their creations but also develop new projects, help new talents reach a larger audience, and open their doors to other professional makers. This makes it a unique project in Limburg," says Culture Alderman Nele Kelchtermans.

"This new project is a remarkable step in our urban development. The vacant building gets a multifunctional purpose, adding more vibrancy to the neighbourhood. We keep various options open for use, for instance, the building is optimally suited for organizing conferences and seminars. This way, we open our doors to everyone, even if you're not coming to sample culture. More diverse visitors will find their way to art and culture in the city centre and the area around Groenplein. This unique creative hub will benefit local traders and entrepreneurs," says Mayor Steven Vandeput.

The total cost of the project is 15 million euros, with 5.1 million euros coming from the Flemish government.

Jan Jambon, Flemish Minister-President, says: "With the transformation of the 'former city office' into the new arts house Groenplein, the Flemish Government contributes to the further growth of cultural life in Hasselt. The Flemish Government consciously invests together with various central cities in high-quality and sustainable cultural infrastructure. Thanks to state-of-the-art facilities, this arts house is undoubtedly poised to become a new epicentre for community-building activities, high-quality cultural performances, and engaging encounters for Hasselt and the broader region."

With maximum preservation and, where necessary, recycling of existing materials, and a trajectory to operate the building climate-neutral by 2050, sustainability is a crucial pillar of the project. "The renovation fits completely into our strategic vision for urban heritage," notes Building Alderman Laurence Libert. "With the SURE2050 strategic real estate plan, we aim to make all our buildings climate-neutral by 2050, and we demonstrate that ambition here too. This strategy also includes efficient renovations, with this project being a shining example. We strongly support the preservation of the iconic facade, the addition of greenery, and shared usage. The construction team has 500 calendar days. If the works can commence as expected later this year, the renovated building could open its doors in the second half of 2026."

Strong axis 
For the four organizations that will organize daily operations, it will be a joyous return to the centre of Hasselt. After years located on Maastrichterstraat, Het nieuwstedelijk, Cinema Zed, Vonk, and B-Classic temporarily moved to Kaai16 with De Nieuwe Zaal at the end of 2023.  

"We are eagerly anticipating the start of construction on Groenplein," says Christophe Aussems on behalf of the future residents of vzw De Nieuwe Zaal. "It will be a unique home for theatre, music, and cinema, right in the heart of Hasselt. A place where not only presentations happen but also where projects are developed and created. The four professional arts organizations that will soon be active in Groenplein are joining forces to make it a dynamic space. Perhaps even new residents will join. It will be a wonderful place for artists and the audience."

The new arts house will become a full-fledged part of the cultural axis CCHA - Z33 - Groenplein - Quartier Canal, with Bootstraat as the new musical hub. With goals including 2,500 film screenings, 40 theatre performances, and an anticipated 80,000 visitors per year, the ambitions are substantial. "This ambition will have a significant impact. Hasselt and, by extension, Limburg are bursting with artistic and creative talent. Highlighting and providing additional opportunities is not only beneficial for the visitor. For example, young creators no longer have to leave Limburg to pursue their dreams. The entire arts and culture sector in our province will reap the benefits of this project," concludes Alderman Kelchtermans.