From thought provoking to bonkers: Part 1, Tree houses in Bruges

Photo by Kevin Mayne

This is the first of three short blog posts about sculpture. Not a subject I expected to be writing about much in a largely cycling blog but in the past few weeks I have been treated to some superb outdoor art that has spanned from thought provoking to downright bonkers so I thought it would be nice to write them up as a set, joining some past posts from Yorkshire and Scotland.

The first post is in the thought provoking category and comes from our recent trip to Bruges.

Cycling in Bruges by Kevin MayneI have already mentioned the cyclists statue which takes pride of place on the large square of t’Zand but there is another sculpture story that caught my eye too. The city is holding its Contemporary Art and Architecture Triennial 2015 which means that there are 14 outdoor art installations around the city, popping up as we wandered the tourist routes. They were interesting enough but none of them particularly grabbed my attention until we got to the Photo Kevin MayneBeguinage.

This is one of my favourite sights in Bruges, a quite courtyard in the centre of the community of houses that once formed a community of women that lived together in a movement that was particularly strong in the Low Countries from 13th -16th Centuries. There are Beguinages on the edge of many Belgian towns and cities in various degrees of preservation, some of them now incorporated into the fabric of the city, some still quite distinct. Bruges has one of the largest and best preserved.

Bruges Buguinage

There are no more Beguines in Bruges but since 1927 it has functioned as a Benedictine convent. Its central green is full of mature trees and it has a lovely sense of timelessness and calm in the bustling tourist city.

It was therefore somewhat of a surprise to me to discover that the trees had an unconventional visitor – tree houses. Perching like birds’ nests across the square were a set of huts, tucked right up in the branches. They were captivating and instead of looking at the cottages around the square I found myself constantly looking up to the treetops.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

As we were leaving the square I found the plaque that described the thinking behind the piece by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata, words that are also provided on the Triannual web site:


The tree houses in the Beguinage garden are poetic sculptures that explore the boundaries between art, architecture and nature. They are a surprising presence in this environment: the childlike, playful and adventurous spirit of a treehouse contrasts with the intrinsic spirituality, peace and formality of the Beguinage. Signs at the entrance to the complex ask visitors for complete silence. Children are not welcome to run and shout in this place, let alone to climb the trees. And this apparent dichotomy is exactly why the wooden constructions become an invitation to dream. High up in the trees, they seem like charming watchers, as though protectors of the residents and visitors. The tree houses also recall little places of retreat, if only in the imagination. The unreachable sculptures make one long for a private, peaceful place all to oneself.

I like that, I sense more than a touch of rebellion in those words, introducing a sense of play into the calm of the square and encouraging us to play like children. I know exactly what he wanted to achieve because I just wanted to climb up. A brilliant concept, thoughtfully executed.

Photo by Kevin Mayne