Village Square Meer
Village Square Meer is a remarkable citizens’ initiative which has breathed new life into a historic convent, situated in the heart of Meer, a small village in the province of Antwerp of around 3,000 inhabitants. The 19th-century cloister and its surrounding buildings were listed as a National Monument and Landscape in 2003.
With the rising use of cars in the 20th century, the village progressively lost its sole public space: a widened road that was also used for markets. The Convent Meer site therefore remained of immense importance to the villagers, serving as their educational centre, gathering place and even a park during the weekends. When the village school and parish hall closed their doors in 2005, the village’s last semi-public space faced an uncertain future. The convent was put up for sale, and the threat of privatisation loomed large.
Responding to this critical situation, a group of nine villagers initiated a movement that eventually grew into a broad collective, encompassing local entrepreneurs, regional social housing authorities, community welfare services, and the monuments and heritage sites administration, as well as an interdisciplinary design team comprising heritage architects (aNNo), urban planners (D+A) and architects (DAS). Through the combined efforts of the non-profit organisation Convent Meer and the social housing authorities, Bouwmaatschappij De Noorderkempen, the convent was successfully acquired in 2005.
aNNo collaborated closely with the local collective to explore avenues for guaranteeing public use of the convent site. Their proposal envisioned the site as the village’s inaugural public square, with public amenities were thoughtfully arranged around it. At the same time, persistent advocacy at the heritage authorities resulted in the integration of new social housing unit, gracefully blended into the site’s edges.
The Convent Meer site has been revitalised and has reclaimed its historical purpose as a place for collective living and community engagement. Village Square Meer has achieved a successful and enduring transformation by harmoniously combining historic and contemporary architecture and integrating public functions and social housing.
“The diverse group of individuals and organisations involved in the Village Square Meer initiative was highly effective, with each participant playing a crucial role. It is a strong example of how a heritage site can serve as a connecting force within a community. Moreover, the initiative presents a sustainable model for a circular economy, demonstrating the successful integration of a public space and respectful repurposing of a heritage site”, the Awards’ Jury stated.
“Despite its local focus, Village Square Meer carries a strong European vision, particularly relevant to the New European Bauhaus. It is truly inspiring to witness how this collective surmounted numerous barriers, working hand-in-hand to persuade the relevant authorities. The initiative also emphasises the significance of a village having a central hub, a place where people can gather and interact, and sets an example for how monasteries and similar heritage sites could be revitalised and repurposed to benefit the community”, the Jury concluded.
Contact: Stijn Cools | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.annoarchitecten.be