A new urban axis has been taking shape in the Southern Belgian city of Liège, starting at the Santiago Calatrava-designed train station, via a pedestrian bridge, and up until a shopping and audio-visual centre designed by Ron Arad. The latest addition to this route is a concrete and glass extension to a Fine Arts Palace from 1905, named La Boverie (referencing the erewhile bovine grazers of the region) and situated in the green lung of this formerly heavily industrial city – on an island even, created by the river Meuse and its Derivation canal.
A competition six years ago, set up to refresh the historical building, gave the green light to Rudy Ricciotti who, in collaboration with local firm p.HD, founded by Paul Hautecler & Pascal Dumont, decided not to demolish the original building. 'I wanted to sublimate it, give it renewed energy, restore it and give its quality back,' said Ricciotti, stressing vigorously his allegiance to the ancient masters of architecture.
The new wing is a discrete, almost self-effacing expansion, connecting the museum with its surroundings. Ricciotti and p.HD employed local skilled workers in order to build the concrete structure, an element of much importance to Ricciotti. 'This is a project that utilises local resources and shares the work with real professions. That’s the role of architecture,' he says.
The restored museum hosts its first temporary exhibition 'En Plein Air' ('In the open Air'), in close collaboration with the Louvre, on the ground-floor level. The permanent collections are housed on the lower level and include a ‘Black Gallery’, a darkened space with fragile works on paper: from Matisse to Magritte and Hergé’s early Tin Tin’s.
With its almost Egyptian style HPC concrete pillars, La Boverie is a characteristic Ricciotti building, in which, he said, he 'excuses himself for being there.' The main focus remains on the museum’s Mannerist architecture: 'I find this building very attractive,' he added, 'so I wanted to create an embrace of beauty.'