2014: A space odyssey for the Queen Elisabeth Chapel

  • Next year, the music school will celebrate its 75th anniversary.
  • The unique facility will be modernized.
  • The architectural plans were inspired by “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Yesterday, there was a feeling of the good old days at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Waterloo. The ambitious architectural plan for the new building was presented, the product of long period of reflection that demonstrates the need to develop this international school of music, established in 1939.


Bernard de Launoit put the final touches to the Chapel’s restructuring under the brilliant, discrete but oh-so-symbolic eye of his father, Jean-Pierre. The work will begin in 2014, when the son will take the reins of this venerable institution. It is also the year of Queen Elisabeth Chapel’s 75th anniversary, which will be celebrated accordingly.


It’s a project that’s both wild and visionary, but essential for the Chapel’s purpose. In ten years Bernard de Launoit, along with his team, has propelled the Chapel to the upper echelons of its sphere. It has attained an unequaled artistic level, with a team of masters in residence who represent the crème de la crème of the world’s music scene and musical instruction: Mari-João Pires, Abdel Rahman El Bacha for the piano, José Van Dam for voice, the Artemis Quartet for chamber music and Gary Hoffman for the cello.


The institution’s influence via partnerships that allow young musicians to give over 200 concerts around the world is also worth mentioning. The Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel has never been better known. It has created an enthusiasm and sense of renewal that is mirrored by its majestic new building, the pure lines of which are a veritable ode to nature. With its ambitious architecture and strong artistic signature, it also possesses great modesty. Like a magnificent backdrop, it highlights the 1939 building, one of Belgium’s icons.


One of the project’s architects, Sébastien Cruyt, is insistent on this point. “We want the two buildings to coexist and support one another architecturally. The 1939 Chapel is a very well designed villa. We wanted to work with that. Olivier Bastin (the project’s other architect who worked wonders at the National Theater and the Charleroi Photography Museum) and I watched ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and the film was a great inspiration: lots of horizontality, simplicity, mirror effects and a variety of ways of interpreting this new building. Olivier Bastin and I wanted to design a building that would gradually seem like it had always been there and would take its place naturally.”


The new building is a horizontal low-rise, over 80 meters long. Its south façade appears like a glass screen and, depending on the exterior light, permits activities in the halls and rehearsal halls to be seen while reflecting its natural surroundings and the old building.


“I will never do another project like this,” says Cruyt, adding, “because the Chapel is unique in the world. Everything about it is atypical: young musicians live, work and sleep here. We had to think of workspaces that are also bedrooms. I know the Chapel well, I’ve been coming here for years, some former students have become friends of mine and I see it, I hear it, they work like crazy, sometimes day and night. They could blow a fuse! We wanted to provide them with a maximum level of well-being and comfort. For example, we imagined that every room would have two exposures, so that each resident could have southern light.” Bastin and Cruyt are surrounded by a dream team that includes landscaper Jean Noël Capart and acoustic engineer Rémi Raskin.


Finally, the new building will offer a beautiful window to the world. It will have a 160 square meter concert hall that will also serve as a recording studio, a hall with human proportions that can host a chamber orchestra and whose acoustics will be flexible courtesy of sliding panels.


Then there is the heart of the matter: how to finance this gem. The Chapel has already raised €4 million, half the project’s budget. The idea is to appeal to private financing, floating bonds payable in ten years to spread out the cost. Bernard de Launoit concludes with a smile, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”



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