Menen’s town hall is a stone’s throw from the French border. Despite much wartime destruction, the building still self-confidently occupies its position between the two market squares. What now appears to be a single entity was not originally so. The monumental screen facades originally concealed several terraced houses with shops, which were intended, together with the Belfry and the ‘Landhuys’, to give the building the desired monumentality.
Over the last century the administrative services have gradually taken over all the houses. Rooms and courtyards were woven together to the point where the whole street block was completely full. The separate elements lost their individuality and the whole of this classified monument thus lost its overall allure. The labyrinth became impenetrable and restoration and clarity were imperative.
The inferior additions and linking structures were removed. A concrete structure of slender columns connected together by an expressive grid of beams was fitted into the former arcaded courtyard of the eighteenth-century ‘Landhuys’. This structure supports the new council chamber. An open space was left in the innermost part of the building, forming an outdoor room bounded by a delicately elegant steel structure. During the day it aids orientation, while in the evening the large lamps illuminate the new corridors.
The metamorphosis of houses into workplaces was made tangible by making use of ambiguities and contradictions. The former shops remain public spaces. The council staff receive the public at big oak counters on floors in coloured cement tiles. On the upper storey the new wooden floors creak and the ceilings have retained their elegant mouldings. The walls are hung with pen drawings by Benoit van Innis.
Despite its clarity and transparency, the building once again invites one to stray, and something new appears each time one does. You always end up where you need to be without having to retrace your footsteps. This town hall has become the town in a house.