Located at the heart of the Belgian province of Hainaut, several kilometres from Mons (Belgium) and Valenciennes (France), Grand-Hornu is one of the most impressive sites of the Industrial Revolution. It has been a member of the European network of cultural centres since its creation in 1991.
The Heritage Site
Grand-Hornu is a former coal mining complex constructed between 1810 and 1830 by Henri De Gorge, a French captain of industry. It is a real urban project, a unique example of functional town-planning in Europe at the start of the era of industrialisation.
Constructed in the neoclassical style, the site consists of the coal workshops and offices, along with a workers’ estate of 450 houses which were exceptionally well-equipped for the period. The coal mine functioned until 1954, after which it was abandoned and reduced to ruins. It was saved in 1971 by Henri Guchez, an architect from the region, who began the first phase of renovation. In 1989 the site was purchased by the Province of Hainaut, who took charge of the restoration. The site was brought to life again through the development of a cultural project which has allowed the Grand-Hornu to be rediscovered by the public and take its place among the great international heritage projects.
Having been one of the jewels in the crown of Belgian industry, Grand-Hornu is today one of Belgium’s leading cultural centres dedicated to contemporary creation. It was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.
The Cultural Project
In its role as a Heritage Site for Culture, Grand-Hornu underlines the importance of an approach which goes well beyond the simple re-use of the built environment. It aims to highlight the historic, aesthetic and functional elements of the building to serve a contemporary conception which is vibrant and fertile.
Through its many exhibitions, the Grand-Hornu Centre for Innovation and Design (CID) presents the architectural monument as witness to the continual effort of men throughout history to make the best of their world.
The Grand-Hornu Centre for Innovation and Design aims to promote contemporary design through a programme of exhibitions and outreach activities, promoting innovation, experimental research, the emergence of new research themes in the sectors of design, architecture and graphics. Demonstrating the diversity of these creative fields, the Centre aims to raises public awareness of design and architecture.
At the Centre, innovation is seen as a breaking down of our current ways of seeing, thinking and doing. To innovate is to embrace change, to leave behind our certainties and our comfort zones to make innovation a part of our everyday lives.
The Centre programmes between three and five exhibitions each year, encouraging reflection on today’s society. These exhibitions are either a response to individual work and research, through single-artist exhibitions dedicated to Belgian or international designers, or thematic exhibitions with a narrative thread intended to provoke thought and reflection. The Centre also hosts conferences, round-tables and a variety of activities linked to the world of design and its effect on our society. Alongside these exhibitions and activities sits an outreach programme which allows the sharing of these discoveries with the public, whether specialists in the field or not, and which attaches great importance to the adaptation of visits and activities to different audiences (schoolchildren, the elderly, families, and vulnerable or isolated people).
Finally, the Centre makes full use of its exceptional historic and industrial setting within Grand-Hornu to offer a range of conferences, seminars, symposiums and meetings for businesses, universities and organisations.
The successful re-use of a monument is dependent on the relationship it maintains with its surroundings as well as its role as a historical landmark for local residents. Its local and regional integration becomes a sign of identity and assimilation for inhabitants of the area.
The monument has become a mediator not only between the past and present but also between what it was, what it may become, and a population who will adopt it anew. Grand-Hornu is the expression of a particular region at a point in time, and its current usage must take into account its regional and historical setting.
Innovation is at the heart of the cultural project of the Centre for Innovation and Design. To innovate is to overturn the accepted ways of thinking and doing. The Centre aims to help citizens to overcome their resistance to the unfamiliar or unknown – it is a call to open up to the ‘other’. The Centre exposes the public to the culture of design and architecture. It questions, studies and explains this culture through dialogue with creators, researchers and also the local population.