The approach to the transformation of the Defeld Stables was to define a clean and distinctive entrance to the museum, directly accessible from the public space.
The Defeld Stables are part of a larger complex known as the ‘Defeld Barracks’ built in 1887. The complex housed the troops and horses of the police until 2001. Composed of two symmetrical wings arranged around a triangular courtyard, the barracks is protected from the public space by a porch (photo below) in the neo-medieval style like many prisons built at the time. In 2012, the porch was demolished to open the esplanade to the public space and accommodate the new police tower designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The Defeld Stables, one of the last witnesses of the barracks, is destined to participate in the civic redevelopment of the Ville Haute district of Charleroi. Listed as a Walloon heritage site, the intervention consisted essentially in defining the process of entering the building while marking its presence in an urban environment marked by the omnipresence of the police tower nearby. This porch forms a new threshold and represents a gesture of welcome to the city and to visitors. It is an anchor for the new function and identity of the building. The new entrance required a transformation of the initially closed front façade. The windows were walled off and replaced with a modern, sculptural porch in exposed concrete that draws the eye. Inside, the new entrance defines the project. The original esplanade entrance, and therefore the ground level on the first floor, is considerably lower than the street level. In other words, if visitors enter through the new entrance, they are halfway between the first floor and the second floor. The spacious landing is punctuated by the reception desk and connects to the monumental staircase that serves both the first floor and the upstairs rooms. It also defines the entrance to the interior, connects the two exhibition floors and constitutes the starting point of a logical museum path. Articulated between three floors, the museum consists of two exhibition floors and an administrative floor under the roof. The first floor consists of two monumental rooms with double-height ceilings, brick vaults and blue stone columns structuring the space. The first one serves as an agora, a reception area for visitors, allowing events to be held. A second monumental space is located in the continuity of the agora, although the transition between the two spaces is marked by a spatial pinch like an airlock preserving the privacy of the different occupations. This second room is dedicated to temporary exhibitions. For this purpose, the furniture, support of the works, is mobile and based on the distance between the stone columns allowing to create various scenographies.
The first room, in the visual continuity of the entrance, is conceived as an agora that can accommodate openings and other conferences. Punctuated by blue stone colonnades, the space is designed to be versatile. A staircase serving as a tribune leads to a mezzanine used for workshops or as a refectory for groups of visitors, while maintaining an important visual relationship with the agora. On the sides, carpentry elements reinterpret the horse troughs, recalling the original function of the building.
One of the major challenges of the project was the path of visitors within a building where the floors did not communicate. The creation of a monumental staircase separating the entrance from the museum spaces made it possible to materialize the visual and physical connection between the floors. Two previously isolated levels now communicate. Punctuated by a gallery running along the listed façade, the intervention within the building had to be thought out in order to protect the works from the harmful rays of the sun. The exhibition spaces are now in second daylight while the windows illuminating the gallery are treated with an anti-UV filter to protect the paintings.
On the second floor, where the permanent collection is exhibited, the mineral and open atmosphere of the first floor gives way to more intimate and warm exhibition spaces. The different rooms, following the principle of antechambers, are connected by openings positioned and designed to emphasize the succession and transition between the spaces by means of high and narrow bays. The passage between rooms also materializes the transition from one epoch or movement to another one. On the other hand, the journey is accentuated by a generous and open space both at the beginning and at the end. An uninterrupted portrait gallery finally brings the visitor back to his starting point, the museum entrance.