Studio Libeskind/H2a Architecte & Associés

Mons, Belgium


Once a medieval city on a hill in the French-speaking part of Belgium, Mons later became a center of heavy industry. Now it wants to reinvent itself as a visitor destination and business hub. The grandly named Mons International Congress Xperience (MICX) by Studio Libeskind and H2a Architecte & Associés is a visually striking statement of intent for the city's business community.

Throughout 2015, Mons will be a European Capital of Culture, along with Pilsen in the Czech Republic. The program's aim is to stage events, open or improve cultural buildings, and generally throw a spotlight on urban regeneration. Several building projects that Mons had planned, such as new and refurbished museums, are delayed, while the main gateway to the city, a rail station designed by Santiago Calatrava, has barely started on-site. But the MICX opened bang on time in early January, following a 2010 design competition and a construction start in June 2012.

For Daniel Libeskind, this is a relatively low-budget, generic building type familiar in most cities: the conference center. It's the usual mix of auditoria, meeting rooms, large foyers and events space. But nobody hires Libeskind to produce a dumb box—certainly not a city wanting to draw attention to itself. The mayor of Mons, former Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo, wanted a landmark to start the regeneration of the postindustrial land between the railway and the River Haine, overlooked by the old city. Libeskind duly tossed out some vigorous shapes. The form of the concrete-framed building is expressed as two interlocking spirals—one clad in widely spaced timber strakes over a black waterproof membrane, the other in pale bronze aluminium slats of the same dimensions. The curving forms swoosh past and through each other, the aluminium one culminating in a familiar Libeskind motif, the caged viewing platform.

At the MICX opening, Libeskind was at pains to point out the tight constraints of the project. He wasn't making excuses; on the contrary, he seemed proud of the fact that his kind of architecture can work on a municipal budget. “It's a public building–we had to be wise with the resources we had,” he said. “In a design-build project, you have to be very flexible.” Construction costs came to $25 million for a three-level building totaling 135,000 square feet, with a parking garage beneath. A green roof, 1,725 square feet of photovoltaic cells, a geothermal heating system, lots of insulation, and, when the time comes, a direct pedestrian link to Calatrava's rail station have helped the conference center achieve Belgium's B Valideo status, the equivalent of LEED Gold.

For Libeskind, creating promenade spaces—both indoors and out—was an important way of adding value to the project and making it more attractive for the people attending events there. “It's good to have people dominating the building, rather than the building dominating the people,” he remarked. Consequently, he brought plenty of daylight into the entrance lobby, made it huge, and complemented it with a showpiece stair, a piece of architecture in itself, with a spacious half-landing intended for hanging out. Breakout areas where people can socialize continue on the outside of the building—on timber-decked terraces with views across to Mons's historic baroque belfry building and an outdoor ramp up to the green roof and the viewing platform on the prow.

Metal-mesh grating underfoot on the viewing platform (or belvedere) means you can see right down to the ground outside the building, not that there is anything to see. Apart from picking up the various key views and acting as a hinge-point between the old city and the planned new urban extension beyond, there is no particular rationale to the shape. This prow—unlike the similar latticework prow of Libeskind's Military History Museum in Dresden—seems to point to nothing in particular. As the architect's practice principal Stefan Blach said, “People always expect from Daniel that everything must have a specific philosophical background. It does not have to be that way.”

Studio Libeskind spent money at key points in the building–for instance, on the excellent auditorium seating, designed by the firm with an Art Deco touch, and made with an orange fabric, and on the local bluestone, familiar from the street paving in many a Belgian city, used here on the main stairs and in the geometric cross-hatching of the polished concrete floors in common areas. In contrast, meeting rooms are very plain.

MICX is by no means a first-rank Libeskind building. If this were fashion, you might call it a bridge line. But that's okay, because there is a hierarchy to all buildings, and a good architect should work at all price points. The detailing may not be exquisite and the external form distinctly willful, but this is honest, not cynical architecture. In global terms, it's no Guggenheim Bilbao. But bookings for events are flooding in, and, for Mons, that may be enough.


Ville de Mons /City of Mons

Studio Libeskind
2 Rector St. 19th Floor
New York, NY 10006

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Daniel Libeskind, Principal Architect
Stefan Blach, Principal in Charge
Johan van Lierop, Project Architect

Architect of Record:
Studio Libeskind / H2a Architecte & Associ's

Associate architect:
H2a Architecte & Associ's
Pascal Daspremont, Ir. (Partner in Charge)
Maciej Kowalczyk, Ir. (Architect)

Interior designer:
Studio Libeskind

Structural Engineer:
Ney + Partners s.a.

Electrical Engineer & Installations:
Putman s.a.

Mechanical Engineer & Installations:
Energys Belgique

Fa'ade Engineer & Installations:
Somec Marine & Architectural Envelopes S.r.l.

Acoustical Engineer:
Venac bureau d''tudes sprl

Environmental Studies: Neo&Ides sprl
Plan coordination: Semaco PM
Technical control bureau: Seco
Technical advisor to the City of Mons: IDEA

General contractor:
CIT Blaton/Gal're

Hufton + Crow Photography
Nick Hufton
+44 (0)7973 197645
Allan Crow
+44 (0)7881 586726
+44 (0)203 4115316


135,000 square feet

Construction Cost:

$25 million

Project Cost:

$30.6 million

Completion Date:

January 2015



Structural system
-Main structure base building: Concrete cast-in-place structure
-Prow structure: Galvanized steel

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
3DR Coffrages (Structural formwork for curved concrete walls)
WP Steel BE (Steel structure of Prow)

Exterior cladding
-Aluminum slats: Champagne anodized aluminum
-Wooden slats: Robinia, untreated

StoTherm exterior plaster system

Curtain wall:
Reynaers Aluminium

Other cladding unique to this project:
Stamisol FA watertight breathable membrane (behind open wood and aluminum cladding)

-metal grates, galvanized steel at Prow (public terrace)

Extensive and semi-intensive green roofs

Metal frame:
Reynaers Aluminium


Reynaers Aluminium

Metal doors:
Reynaers Aluminium

Wood doors:
Svedex b.v.
(featuring Libeskind Design Door for Front of House doors)

Olivari door handles
(featuring Libeskind Design's handle 'Nina' for Front of House doors)

Custom architectural steelwork:
Valicon n.v.

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
-Vogl Toptec Acoustic Plaster board
-Gyproc Rigitone Perforated Plaster board

Triplaco Acoustical wood panels

Special surfacing:
Polished, light grey concrete floor with Belgium Blue stone flags (main public areas)

Floor and wall tile:
Fondovalle ceramic tiles (public wet rooms)

Modulyss carpet (auditoria, meeting rooms and offices)

Auditorium seating:
Poltrona Frau/Cassina ('Tangram' chair by Libeskind Design)

Interior ambient lighting:



Photovoltaic system:
RECOM Ltd. Photovoltaic panels (160m2)

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Sustainability items:
-Geothermal heating
-Passive shading
-Photovoltaic panels
-Rainwater collection
-Natural daylight access and only LED lighting
-green roofs for water retention/heat absorption
-high level of insulation and air-tightness
-Durable fa'ade materials (local Robinia wood, untreated)