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2024 Bruges Triennial: SO-IL, Sumayya Vally and More Question the Future of the Historic City in Changing Times


The fourth edition of the festival, themed Spaces of Possibility, transforms the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city center of the Belgian city with 12 immersive installations that explore how contemporary art and architecture can be a catalyst for sustainable change.

By Mrin B

June 2 2024

The 2024 Bruges Triennial asks 12 artists and architects to reconsider the underutilized public spaces of the city to think about its future | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

Bruges presents the quintessential image of a European city — narrow streets, medieval plazas, canals, and Gothic structures around otherwise banal corners. While most of the Belgian city has been witness to the passage of time, transforming from a medieval metropolis to a tourist destination, its 13th-century center seems to have escaped much of this evolution, a feat that has earned it the UNESCO World Heritage Site tag. The fourth edition of the Bruges Triennial asks how a city so rooted in and defined by its past can adapt to contemporary challenges.

The historic center of Bruges at Christmas | Image by Michael Cisneros through Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

The design event, commissioned by the City of Bruges and organized by Brugge Plus NPO in collaboration with cultural partners Cultuurcentrum Brugge, De Republiek, Het Entrepot, and Musea Brugge, opened last month and will run until September 1, 2024. This year’s curators Shendy Gardin and Sevie Tsampalla invited 12 artists and architects from across the globe asking them to reconsider the public spaces of the historic city with an outlook towards the future. In a world of relentless, fast-paced change, plagued by issues of socio-economic disparity, environmental degradation and climate change, how can cities evolve fruitfully while preserving their essence?

Minnewater park in Bruges | Image by Ad Meskens through Wikimedia Commons

In response, the installations put up across the Centre, West Bruges, and Zeebrugge regions present Bruges as a space for limitless imagination and wonder; they “show new forms of use [for public space], connect city districts and bring people and nature back together,” the curators hope. Here we enlist five installations from the programme that we believe rediscover the city through a new lens.

Common Thread by SO-IL

US-based architecture studio SO–IL has designed Common Thread in collaboration with Dr. Mariana Popescu from TU Delft to activate the garden of the former Capuchin monastery, which opens to the public for the first time ever. Inspired by Bruges’ reputation for lacemaking, the installation is composed of a tunnel-like structure made in fabric that spans two neighborhoods and creates new connections in the urban fabric for the citizens.

Common Thread by SO-IL x TU Delft is made from a 3D knit textile in an ode to Bruges’ history of lacemaking | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

Meandering through the garden, it creates unexpected paths, allowing the natural context to be slowly revealed at each turn. The membrane, created with 3D printing technology, consists of tubes and textile elements made from recycled PET bottles, bringing the site alive with an interplay of light and shadow.

Earthsea Pavilion by Studio Ossidiana

Placed in the courtyard of Hof Bladelin, a 15th-century city palace, the Earthsea Pavilion by Rotterdam-based Studio Ossidiana attempts to connect history with nature. The Italian architects of the practice took inspiration from Bruges’ history and its seashore for the pavilion that showcases the substrata of the region in cylindrical form.

Earthsea Pavilion by Rotterdam-based Studio Ossidiana is located in the courtyard of a 15th-century city palace | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

The 6-meter-wide silo is composed of different materials with plant and flower seeds mixed in, meaning that the installation will transform as time passes. “How do we ensure that historic buildings do not become ghosts of the past,” ask the architects, “and retain their contemporary relevance?”

The installation unearths the substrata of Bruges to make visitors consider the passage of time and relevance of history | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

The tower of balance by Bangkok Project Studio 

The tower of balance by Thai architecture studio Bangkok Project Studio is inspired by its lead architect Boonserm Premthada’s visit to the 13th-century Belfort, a medieval bell tower in the city center. The 18-meter-high installation made in pinewood is conceived as a contemporary bell tower with three platforms. 

Bangkok Project Studio’s The tower of balance is conceived of as a contemporary bell tower | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

Located on the opposite side of King Albert I Park, it is designed to align directionally with Bruges’ most well-known medieval towers: St Salvator’s Cathedral, the Church of Our Lady and the Belfort. With its light and open form, however, the installation counters the three stone edifices it takes inspiration from, hoping to give viewers a different vantage point to the city.

Under the Carpet by Adrien Tirtiaux

Located on a run-down link road in the city, Under the Carpet is a three-part artwork by Belgian artist Adrien Tirtiaux, which asks visitors to pay closer attention to often overlooked infrastructure through its specific interventions. For the project, Tirtiaux uprooted fragments from the road that had been hidden and unused for decades. 

Belgian artist Adrien Tirtiaux’s Under the Carpet transforms run-down infrastructural spaces into works of art | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

A thick, green carpet of moss and foliage was displaced and used to flow out of the Neo-Gothic structure of a hospital’s Gatehouse on the route. Another segment of the road is installed along an underpass, which visitors can view through a mirrored ceiling. A viewing platform along a major road is the final part of the work that gives visitors a view of the link road where the intervention is installed.

The art installation consists of three parts with a viewing platform that lets visitors experience the artwork in its entirety | Image by Filip Dujardin; Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

Grains of Paradise by Sumayya Vally

Inspired by Bruges’ commercial history, South African architect Sumayya Vally has designed Grains of Paradise as a series of blackened canoes that are moored at the Minnewater Bridge, a popular location for tourists set over the Minnewater (Lake of love). The boats act as a communal platform for exchange and trade for visitors, with fresh plants and herbs adding a touch of greenery to the intervention. 

Sumayya Vally’s Grains of Paradise draws on Bruges’ history of commerce | Image Courtesy of Bruges Triennial

The name of the installation is derived from one of the species planted on the boats, melegueta pepper, or Afromomum legueta, a less well-known spice imported in bulk from the Gulf of Guinea nicknamed the "grain of paradise" or "paradijskorrel" because of its unique taste and medicinal qualities. Through the use of boats, especially in the context of a European city known for colonial trading, Vally seems to be inviting visitors to think of forms of exchange and commerce beyond the Western point of view, and to critically examine how culture is shaped through such forms of exchange that transcend boundaries.


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