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An 'erotic centre' will breathe new life into derelict industrial heritage site in Ostend

An 'erotic centre' will breathe new life into derelict industrial heritage site in Ostend

The plan is to restore the building’s exterior and find a new function for its interior

The City of Ostend in Belgium has decided to breathe new life into the dilapidated old building called Hangar 1. The warehouse was part of the old port infrastructure and is one of several similar industrial buildings that have struggled to find a purpose in recent decades.

On 2 August, city authorities announced their plan to restore the building’s façade adhering to the historical period of its creation. At the same time, the interior will get a total makeover and eventually house a sex work centre and a satellite police office, among other businesses.  

It is what is on the inside that counts

Contrary to the building’s exterior, which will be restored to its former historic glory, the interior will be completely redesigned. There will be a new structure inside, taking advantage of the high ceiling and dividing the space into three floors, with an open space plaza in the middle.

Some of the businesses that Hangar 1 will house include a so-called erotic centre with associated social and medical support functions, a business centre, a multi-purpose hall, catering facilities and a micro-brewery. There will also be a food court and a satellite office for the police.

City authorities have described this as an attempt to centralise Ostend’s red lights district while providing adequate police and medical support in the area. The idea is to counteract a lot of the inherent hazards stemming from the practice of sex work.

The above represents a remarkable turnout. Yet, the Alderman for Heritage and Spatial Planning, Kurt Claeys does not really see it that way. In his point of view, sex work is something present in all historic periods, and if the city provides adequate support and regulations, then it can only improve the lives of those who are involved in it.

Another seemingly useless building will become an architectural gem

The restoration of Hangar 1 is very much in line with the current trend in Europe for finding a new purpose to ex-industrial buildings, as de-industrialisation in the latter half of the 20th century left whole districts without a reason to exist.

Hangar 1 gained its protected status in 1981 by a Royal Decree, in recognition of the value and aesthetics in its design, yet nothing much has happened to it since. In the first decade of the 21st century, it functioned as a concert hall and rave spot, but in recent years the windows have been boarded up and the brick façade has been slowly succumbing to the elements.

However, the building holds a promise and memories. The memories concern the fact that it once was a lively place in the harbour and the promise is that it will be so once again.

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