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Former English Hospital (Liège)

THE FORMER ENGLISH HOSPITAL in LIEGE
Grouping of the services of the Walloon Region

 

The historical site which the Walloon Region has chosen for all its external services of Town Planning of the Province of Liège, is the former "Hôpital des Anglais" (English Hospital), situated on one side of the heights of Liège. Inserted between the streets rue Montagne-Sainte-Walburge, rue du Péri and rue des Anglais, near the historical centre of Liège, one of the main features of this place also being its remarkable environment with trees. This establishment was built by refugee English Jesuits, who studied and taught exact sciences there, specifically astronomy. Afterwards it was converted into a hospital and would keep this appellation among the population of Liège.

It is a remarkable XVIIIth century building in neoclassical style. Its renovation, the work of the architects Jacques Valentiny and Jacqueline Charlier, affects a surface of fourteen thousand five hundred square metres, including the recently built annex. The renovation has allowed the adaptation of the interior structure to its new functions and has brought to light the architectural characteristics of the facade, namely the alternation of stones and bricks as well as the very beautiful cramp irons. The outside conversion emphasises the quality of the bosky bower which surrounds the buildings.

This significant reallocation has allowed two works of art to be integrated, one on the inside and one on the outside. After calling for tenders, the Arts Commission wanted to have two remarkable projects realised : the conversion of the reception hall by Ladislas de Monge, inspired here by the theme of the sacred tree of Yggdrassil ; and the implantation of one of the works of Emile Desmedt, a monumental sundial, in the inside courtyard, opposing the main facade.
 

The English hospital in Liège
 © Transit photo

 

 

 

Ladislas de Monge : the sacred ash tree of Yggdrassil

In the centre of the renovated entrance hall of the former English Hospital, around a pillar, rises a stylised tree, the black metal branches of which spread to the four corners of the room. One of them passes over the counter and rests on a marking sign ; two others make their way towards the passages which surround the lift shafts ; the last one seems to traverse the entrance lintel. It is an original interpretation of the mythological theme of the sacred ash tree of Yggdrasill, born from the imagination and the hands of the designer Ladislas de Monge. Lights which are placed randomly in the branches recall the dispersion of light beams through the boughs of the trees of a thick forest. At the top of the tree-pillar, four ash structures ensure a harmonious visual transition with the quadrangular shape of the hall.

On the ground, the three ash "roots" of the "tree" cut out sections of small blue Belgian granite. The stones have been bushhammered, so as to give a velvety aspect which deadens the footsteps, like the forest floor. The artist wanted to create a restful space, tinged with serenity, emphasised by the patinated colours of the walls. Sitting under the branches of a friendly tree, flooded with subdued light, the visitor finds an unexpected peaceful space, worthy of a spiritual escape.

In terms of technical expertise, the reception counter is an example of Ladislas de Monge's very best work. A sculptured piece in cherry, three metres long, seems to stretch, to crease, to contract, to expand ; as if it were animated with an interior movement wishing to adapt its outside appearance, to surrender itself to hands, to elbows, even to a chest in search of a stable support. The actual reception hall is heightened by concords of ash, a masculine wood, clear, tough, solar, the pillar associating it with a vertical principle ; whereas the cherry is, on the contrary, a feminine wood, dark drawing to red, supple, moonlike, like the returning curve adopted by the counter.
 


© Transit photo

 


© Transit photo

 

 

 


© Transit photo

 


© Transit photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sundial of Emile Desmedt

For the conversion of the outside zone of the English Hospital, in Liège, the Arts Commission has opted for a project submitted by the sculptor Emile Desmedt. For the determination of its integration, he has drawn his inspiration from the history of the building : because of its occupation for a long time by numerous men of science (mathematicians, astronomers, doctors, etc.), it includes several sundials. The artist was inspired by this form when proposing a work which integrates a sculptured cone, pointing obliquely towards the sky, comparable to the telescope of an astrophysicist. It also recalls the plumbline and the pendulum, tools of the architects in previous centuries.

The cone of the sundial, monumental and functional, rests on its sides whereas the central axis (the style) with a length of 20 metres, stretches towards the sky. In relation to the ground, the latter element is inclined at an angle of 50°40', that is the latitude of the place. Tighteners harmoniously join the style and the twenty-four sections which constitute the conic base. Standing between the lawns and the facade, this monumental sundial "rings" twelve hours by emphasising this limit between the two surfaces.

In the entirety, the work particularly functions as a visual signal, for those who come into the enclosures of the building, without causing harm to its appreciation. The artist takes into consideration the visual strength of the building and has understood that it was useless to "compete" with such an ambitious architecture. Besides, the structure of the cone recalls, like a low echo, that of the roofs.

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