hidden europe 67

Changing places: Adaptive architecture

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: A striking piece of adaptive design: the former monastery chapel at ‘The Anthony’ in Utrecht (photo © hidden europe).


Would you sleep in a former abattoir that had been converted into a hotel? Or a prison? Or an asylum? We look at how hotels cope with history, drawing mainly on a lovely example of a Dutch monastery which has been transformed into a striking hotel.

Utrecht’s Kanaalstraat (Canal Street) has all the buzz of a cosmopolitan Dutch city. This busy street in a multi-cultural neighbourhood has a slightly alternative vibe, bicycles aplenty and on summer days it’s a place where local residents just like to hang out for beer, cocktails, street food and a blether.

Stepping off Kanaalstraat and into a former monastery is to venture into another world. The slight but perceptible change in level, moving down from the street towards the hotel entrance and reception, marks a metaphorical distancing from the bustle of Kanaalstraat. The buildings of this erstwhile house of prayer have been sensitively converted into a comfortable hotel, simply called The Anthony. The name refers to the Portugueseborn Franciscan friar associated with Padua. The hotel is a very fine example of adaptive architecture, which aims at preserving large elements of a building’s former purpose while at the same time creating a new space. It’s about respecting tradition while also embracing something fundamentally novel.

In Utrecht, The Anthony strikes that balance beautifully, preserving the original conventual design with a chapel, the former cloisters and courtyards. There’s more than a hint of monastic calm, and the hotel really does have a sense of being a retreat from the busy Utrecht street outside its front door. It is typical of a new generation of designer- led hotels where the unique character of a building demands a great attention to detail and real sensitivity to the values, beliefs, hopes and fears embedded in its history.

Related article

Marking Time: New Train Services for 2020

The hidden europe award for ingenuity in creating new European rail travel opportunities is awarded to Austria's state rail operator, Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB). We look at what ÖBB will offer anew for 2020, and examine too what's new on the rails in Russia, Germany and elsewhere across Europe.