Vesalius project gives new meaning to pathology institute and anatomical theatre

21 June 2021
In 2025, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven will be opening a new public experience centre on the Hertogen site in Leuven. The Vesalius project will be dedicated to scientific research, care and society. The university will be restoring two historic buildings to house the project.

2025 already presents itself as an exceptional year for the university community: want dan viert de KU Leuven haar zeshonderdjarig bestaan. One of the eye-catchers in this jubilee year will be the opening of the Vesalius project. With this initiative KU Leuven and UZ Leuven want to inspire the public with stories about science and care. This interdisciplinary centre will not only house a museum - which will put parts of the university and HistarUZ collection on display - but also workshops and a visitors' centre.

As befits the legacy of Vesalius, the human body will take centre stage in the project. The body is the starting point of a wide variety of stories about health and illness, science and innovation, quality of life and human welfare. What is the effect of new technologies on the possibilities of medicine? How the changing beauty ideal infuence the way we relate to our body? What is the social influence of a pandemic? …

Revaluation of heritage assets

The project will be located on the Hertogen site in central Leuven, the former hospital site between Brusselsestraat, Kapucijnenvoer and Minderbroedersstraat. The university is renovating 2 historic buildings in Minderbroedersstraat: the anatomical amphitheaitre with the adjacent Snijhuis and the pathology institute.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Leuven university gradually became more of a scientific institution. Both buildings stem from this development. The neogothic anatomical amphitheatre, designed by the famous architect Joris Helleputte, dates from 1877. This auditorium accommodated two hundred students, for anatomical classes and demonstrations. Adjacent to it there was a rectangular dissection hall, the so-called Snijhuis ("Cutting House"). Such an infrastructure, with lot of light, ingenious ventilation and excellent acoustics, was, at that time, unseen at any Belgian university.

At the start of the twentieth century (1906-1907) the Pathology Institute was established right next to it. Inside it was especially the big halls for medical, chemical and microscopic analyses that stood out, both used for research and education. In addition, the institute included an anatomical museum and auditorium for 80 persons. During the interwar period, a U-shaped assembly hall with two hundred places was added as well. In the second half of the twentieth century, more and more departments moved to the Gasthuisberg site. At this moment, neither of the two locations is being used, but this will change in a couple of years' time.

The power of science

“The Vesalius project will give new contemporary meaning to this listed heritage, which will also fit perfectly with its historic meaning”, according to Luc Sels, rector of KU Leuven. “The past year we have all experienced first hand the power and importance of science. Science is about imagining and breaking ground. This is what we want to stress even more with the Vesalius project.”

“The two historic locations were of great importance for the development the education of medicine at our university. This new re-imaginig project is our way of paying a fitting tribute”, says prof. dr. Wim Robberecht, CEO at UZ Leuven. “The human body literally used to take centre stage here, and with the Vesalius project we want to continue that tradition in a modern way.”

The master plan of the project has been finalised. The coming years, the content will be determined while the buildings are being restored. The opening is planned for the autumn of 2025.

Last edit: 14 February 2022