The words “Flanders” and “glass” don’t usually sit comfortably together. Our neighbours have a much stronger glass heritage: think of the Val Saint Lambert glass factory in Wallonia or the major European glass museums in Leerdam, the Netherlands; Frauenau, Germany; and Sars-Poteries, France. But actually Flanders is firmly on the glass map, thanks to the Flemish Centre for Contemporary Glass Art, otherwise known as The Glass House, in Lommel, Limburg province.
The Glass House brings a number of activities together under one roof. (And what a roof! But more of that later.) Its main goal is to attract and encourage contemporary glass artists and designers. Workshops provide all the glassmaking facilities a budding artist might need. They can create their glassworks on the spot – then take them home or put them up for sale in the Regional Tourist Visitors Centre, which is next to the Glass House.
If you don’t see yourself as a glass artist, there is still much at The Glass House to keep you occupied. Displays and short films explain the process of glassmaking, right from the moment the quartz sand is extracted from the sand pits outside Lommel, through to the art of glass blowing. You can peer through the windows of the workshops to watch glassblowers and other glass artists at work. There is even the possibility of having a go yourself. (After a course and under close supervision.)
The Glass House building is a work of art in itself. Designed by Brussels architect Philippe Samyn, its centrepiece is an eye-catching 30-metre-high glass and stainless steel cone. It’s visible from all directions and dominates the town – particularly at night, thanks to an array of electro-luminescent diodes. Still, despite its imposing nature, it manages to look quite fragile, as if it might blow away in a sudden gale. It won’t, of course, as it’s composed of a totally rigid system of triangular frames made of hollow steel tubes.
Inside the cone, two identical steel staircases are suspended from the structure and spiral upwards. Ascending the stairs, visitors pass three exhibition areas, while cleverly placed mirrors enable you to view the entire external structure of the cone.
The Glass House is a green house. The heat of the furnace is recuperated to heat the building, while the rain water falling on the roof is collected and used to cool the glass.
The Glass House is also an exhibition centre. Running until March 3, 2013 is an exhibition of the Embrechts-Ryckaert collection. It includes about a thousand glass objects from contemporary art to historical design, ethnic jewellery to reverse glass paintings, but also hundreds of souvenirs and curios that they found at local flea markets or on their many travels around the world.
The Glass House is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.