Past and future go hand in hand as Museum aan de Stroom opens to the public
Last week the city of Antwerp opened the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), an unusual red sandstone and glass building that looks like a helter skelter stack of large cantilevered boxes. Designed by Rotterdam-based architect, Neutelings Riedijk, the building takes the form of a squared-off spiral creating ten levels each offering different views of the city and Scheldt River through its floor-to-ceiling undulating glass walls. The exhibition spaces are located at the building’s core and are connected by a walkway and escalators that will remain open to the public when the museum is closed. On the top floor, the building houses a fine dining restaurant, event space and viewing terrace.
The turbulent history of Antwerp’s Eilandje district is captured in the minor details sewn into the MAS. A mottled pattern of metal ornaments veil the facade in the shape of hands – the official symbol of the city of Antwerp. In 1568, one of the municipality’s most important buildings – the economic seat and warehouse of the Hansa towns, the Hansahuis – was constructed where the MAS stands today, over time becoming an iconic landmark in the local area. After it was burnt to the ground in 1893, the site stood derelict for many years as Eilandje continued to decline as the withdrawal of harbour activities quickly spiralled.
Over the last ten years the district has undergone a serious urban redevelopment effort, with contributions from many a well-known architect including David Chipperfield, Hans Kolhoff, Guyer en Gigon, and Diener en Diener. Residents are slowly beginning to filter back in to the fashionable converted lofts and modern apartment buildings, attracted to new cultural offerings such as the Flemish Ballet Company, city archive at the Felixpakhuis and now the MAS. In a generous public plaza at the front of the MAS a sunken centre offers a key exhibition space, also acting as the framework for a large mosaic by Luc Tuymans. Dotted on all four sides of this square are a number of pavilions and terraces which provide event and display space for potential exhibitors.
Built on the docks of a once derelict neighbourhood, the Museum aan de Stroom hosts homegrown treasures and those brought in by tall ships from around the globe. MAS director Carl Depauw called the 65m tall tower ‘a beautiful shrine…an absolute icon for the city’. Architect Willem Jan Neutelings called it his ‘stone sculpture’. While it’s too early to tell if the building will be to Antwerp what the Guggenheim has become to Bilbao, Aaron Betsky, the former director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, and a respected critic said the building is a beautiful icon that will anchor the Eilandje district of Antwerp.