Urban development in Ghent offers new opportunities for industrial heritage and the museum

Pieter Neirinckx, Marc Pinte



The subject of the article is the process of establishing, and the role of an industrial museum in the former port areas of Ghent. Although Ghent is located about 32 km from the coast, the city is a real sea port. The construction of the Ghent–Terneuzen Canal in 1823–1827 created a direct corridor to the North Sea. From the 19th century, large textile factories began to arise in and around the medieval city center, so that at the end of the 2nd half of the 19th century, Ghent became the most important industrial city of Flanders. This continued until the 1970 crisis. At that time, textile production was moved to countries with lower labor costs and factory buildings were demolished, but the old port basins remained. Port activities were moved north of the city to areas along the canal. The first Museum for Industrial Archaelogy was founded in this area. Fearful of potential loss of important industrial heritage, the small museum took over large steam engines and even port cranes. It gradually became understood that the collection of these large industrial objects in museum conditions is not easy. The Department for Urban Planning began the re-evaluation of the 19th-century industrial belt and the area of the old port. Currently, there is the integration of large technology objects (big stuff) with urban tissue and social life. The port’s heritage is raised to act as a visual and identity carrier, with a particular focus on port cranes. The cooperation between the Department of Urban Planning and the Museum of Industry offers the Museum the opportunity to go outside the walls of the museum to restore big industrial facilities (big stuff) to the old port of the city.

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