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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).

Summary

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.

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