Tuesday 13 December 2011

Great Railway Stations Number 6: Gent Sint Pieters

The Belgian city of Ghent (to Francophones it is Gand, to the Flemish it is Gent but for Anglophones it requires the addition of an ‘h’) has a fine railway station of remarkably eccentric appearance. Next year will be its centenary year, having opened for traffic in 1912 to a design by architect, Louis Cloquet. The main station building with its circular clock tower displays an eclectic stylistic mix of Moorish and medieval influences and results in a complex profile topped off with extravagant battlements. Inside the entrance hall there are carved lattice screens, colonnaded clerestories with columns and arches in two tone polished granite. The upper walls are embellished with painted murals of prominent Belgian towns and cities and the ceilings feature ornate painted decoration. Access to the train platforms is via twin tunnels of medieval design and limited capacity.

A massive redevelopment programme is underway and when completed in 2016 the area around and beneath the station will have been transformed into a state-of-the-art transport hub and interchange. Bus, tram, cycles and private cars will each have their designated zone and new access roads will be constructed. The original buildings have been renovated since 2007 and will be unchanged by all this activity with the exception of the platform access tunnels which will be replaced by something more spacious. A video presentation describing the project in great detail can be seen here.

For many architects, the chance to design a train station was an opportunity to indulge in some architectural fantasy or some spectacular engineering. While some combine both features, Ghent Sint-Pieters falls into the former category and there is much to enjoy and admire, especially in the concourse and in particular the splendid murals, restored to their original splendour in 2010.

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