Beyer Blinder Belle transforms maritime complex into Red Star Line Museum
Eight years in the making, the Red Star Line Museum opened in Antwerp, Belgium on 28 September. A European counterpart to New York’s Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the museum is housed in a former maritime complex of three brick buildings that have been restored and updated by New York architect Beyer Blinder Belle to house spaces for interpretive exhibits, areas for quiet contemplation, and a resource center, as well as support functions.
A new observation tower rising dramatically above the historic port buildings serves as a contemporary counterpoint to the international heritage site and provides visitors a panoramic open air view of the city and the river banks where emigrants, including such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, and Irving Berlin, embarked on a voyage to a new life.
The visitor experience is orchestrated to tell the story of immigration from Antwerp to America. Visitors enter the Museum through the Red Star Line 2 building, an expansive hall with a new glass and steel vestibule that has been inserted within the historic space. From this hall, visitors pass through a narrow passage into the Red Star Line 1, the oldest building on the site. Here visitors are introduced to the universal storey of migration, with the history of the Red Star Line shipping line and buildings presented in the boiler room.
Passing through a transitional space, visitors enter the Red Star Line 3 building, where exhibits follow the Red Star Line emigrant from departure in Eastern Europe to the new world. At the end of this sequence, visitors can search for background stories and genealogical data of the Red Star Line passengers and ‘leave a trace’ telling a personal or family migration story.
The journey ends at the top of the observation tower, where the initially obscured view of the harbor - symbolic of the emigrant’s long journey from a village in Europe through Antwerp to the Red Star Line warehouses for the inspection process - opens up to the River Scheldt noting the voyage ahead.
With the opening of the Red Star Line Museum, visitors can literally stand in the shoes of the more than two million immigrants who traveled from Antwerp to American between 1873 and 1934 in search of a better life; The Museum dutifully recounts their journey.