Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Museum aan de Stroom in Hanzestedenplaats, Belgium by Neutelings Riedijk Architects
June 2nd, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Neutelings Riedijk Architects
The new MAS | Museum aan de Stroom [Museum by the River] is located in the centre of the district called ‘Eilandje’, the old harbour district by the centre of the old city. This district was originally called ‘Nieuwstad [New City]’, as it was the first city expansion constructed by land speculator and urban developer Gilbert van Schoonbeke (1519-1556) outside the Spanish fortress belt in the sixteenth century. The name Eilandje stems from the fact that this area was surrounded by water on four sides, so that it actually was an island when the bridges were up.
In the old days, the Hansahuis or Oosterhuis stood where MAS stands now. This was the economic seat and warehouse of the Hansa towns in Antwerp built in 1568. It was one of the most important buildings in the city for three centuries, until it burned down in 1893. An extensive archaeological study was made by the City archaeological department before construction of the MAS begun, during which the old foundations were mapped.
The old docks
The Willemdok and the Bonapartedok are the two oldest harbour docks of Antwerp, dug in the beginning of the eighteenth century under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte and King Willem I. Since the Hansahuis was too important to be demolished, a spit of land remained between the docks, which is the central location where the MAS stands today.
Due to the withdrawal of the harbour activities to bigger harbours north of the city, the once so lively harbour district degenerated and was depopulated. The city has worked very hard on urban development upgrading in the past ten years. The selection of the location for the MAS was therefore a conscious choice as leverage in urban regeneration. Urban regeneration is currently in full swing and the district is regaining its liveliness.
The future of the Eilandje
In the meantime, several large public functions have been added to the Eilandje such as the Flemish Ballet Company, the City archive in the Felixpakhuis and the future migration museum in the old Red Star Line buildings. Old warehouses are being converted into lofts everywhere, and new apartment buildings such as the Koninklijk Entrepot by Berlin architect Hans Kolhoff, the residential towers by Swiss architects Diener en Diener and the towers by David Chipperfield and Guyer en Gigon, as well as many projects yet to follow, are being erected. The estimate is that 5000 new residents will move to the Eilandje in the next few years.
Outdoor construction around the MAS
The quays round the old docks have been renovated on the basis of an idea of French landscape architect Michel Desvigne. An underground car park has been constructed under the Godefriduskaai so that the quays are now car-free walking areas with restaurants and terraces. A few years ago, the Willemdok was turned into a yacht harbour for visitors passing through Antwerp. The Bonapartedok will be converted into a museum dock with historical ships in the next few years.
The MAS | Museum aan de Stroom stands between the old docks in the centre of the Eilandje. This old harbour area is the most important city renovation project in the centre of Antwerp and is in full development as a new dazzling city district.
The MAS was designed as a sixty-metre high tower. Ten gigantic natural stone trunks are piled up as a physical demonstration of the heaviness of history, full of historical objects that are the legacy of our ancestors. It is a storehouse of stacked history in the middle of the old harbour docks. Every storey of the tower has been rotated a quarter turn, creating a gigantic spiral staircase. This spiral space, in which a facade of corrugated glass is inserted, forms a public city gallery.
The spiral route
A route of escalators leads the visitors up from the square up to the top of the tower. The story of the city, its harbour and inhabitants is told in the spiral tower. Visitors can enter a museum hall on every level and reflect on the history of the dead city, while on the way up breath-taking panoramas unfold above the living city. The top of the tower accommodates a restaurant, a party room and a panoramic terrace, where the present is celebrated and the future is planned.
Facades, floors, walls and ceilings of the tower are entirely covered with large panels of hand-cut red Indian sandstone, evoking the image of a monumental stone sculpture. The four-colour variation of the natural stone panels has been distributed over the facade on the basis of a computer-generated pattern. The spiral gallery is finished with a gigantic curtain of corrugated glass. Its play of light and shadow, of transparency and translucence turns this corrugated glass facade into a light counterweight to the heavy stone sculpture.
In order to soften the monumental tower volume, a pattern of metal ornaments has been attached to the facade as a veil. The ornaments have the shape of hands, the symbol of the City of Antwerp. This pattern is continued inside the building by means of metal medallions, cast according to a design by Tom Hautekiet with a text by Tom Lanoye.
The museum square
The museum square at the base of the tower is an integral part of the design. The square has been designed in the same red natural stone as the tower and is surrounded by pavilions and terraces as an urban area for events and open-air exhibits. The central part of the plaza is sunken and forms a framework for the large mosaic by Luc Tuymans.
The ground floor includes the entrance hall with the information counter, the cafeteria and the departments for logistics, storage and transport. The children’s workshop is accommodated on an intermediate level above the ground floor. In principle, levels 2 to 8 are identical storeys which can be subdivided completely flexible. The first storey is currently arranged for offices, the second as a depot and storeys 3 to 8 as exhibit halls. The ninth floor at the top is laid out for a restaurant, a party hall and a commercial kitchen. A large terrace next to the restaurant has a view on the Scheldt river.
An escalator route runs upwards through the gallery. This is the most important circulation route in the building. Large-scale objects that can also be seen from the city can be placed in the gallery. The escalator route leads upwards along light walls on which alternating images and texts can be displayed, and along display cases holding objects. This is the quick museum route, where visitors are offered a short scenographical story on their way up.
The museum halls
Every museum hall consists of a continuous museum area with an identical layout; a large museum hall, a small museum hall and four smaller zones. The museum hall is a black box with no daylight in which all kinds of scenographic and audiovisual arrangements can be set-up. One walks into the halls from the gallery and takes the museum route around the core, ending up at the same point in the gallery. This is the slow route, where an extensive scenographic story can be told.
The central core of the building includes the logistics components, such as the lifts, two fire stairs curving in a double helix and the vertical technical shafts. An intermediate storey is included on every level in the core, provided with a technical area for the mechanical ventilation of the museum hall.
The roof of the building is laid out as a public panorama roof with a view over the city, the harbour and Antwerp’s surroundings.
The pavilions are an integral component of the project. They form a division to the Willemdok, on the one hand to guide pedestrians on their route between the city centre and the Eilandje, on the other hand as a wall of the museum plaza. There are four pavilions, dedicated to information and commercial uses, such as the museum shop, immediately opposite from the entrance to the museum tower. Covered outside areas lie between the four pavilions, which can be used for all kinds of public events and to exhibit objects.
Layout and scenography
The building is set up as a flexible museum machine which can be used and arranged in all sorts of ways on the basis of the changing visions of curators, scenographers and concession holders. Neutelings Riedijk Architects has no further involvement in the elaboration of the interior or the scenography. The scenography of the first exhibits is to be set-up by B-Architecten; the cafeteria, party hall and the restaurant by the decorators of the concession holders, and the pavilions by the Founders’ interior decorators.
Support structure with central core
The 62-metre high MAS tower is supported by a 12×12 metre central core of concrete poured on site. Steel frames are suspended from this core, extending 12 metres. The frames form a balance structure on either side of the core in accordance with the ‘milk maid’ principle. The frames are still partially visible in the exhibition halls as large V components that divide the areas of the halls. The outer walls are suspended from the outer ends of the frames, which in turn support the floor components. The floor components consist of 12-metre long prefabricated concrete TT girders. The typical main sculptural form of the building is created in this way without a single column, as a stack of cantilevered halls.
Supporting outer walls
The outer walls of the tower are built out of prefabricated concrete panels, 6 metres high and 1.80 metres wide. The panels are welded together by means of welding plates, so that the entire unit forms one single 36-metre long wall girder. The visible side of the panels have a surface texture of vertical planks with a wood grain structure. This pattern is made by means of rubber casts of real planks, which were subsequently used as moulds in the forms. The walls contain 50,000 visible screw plugs that form a decorative pattern in the exhibition halls and can be used as a suspension system. All visible concrete is finished with a fabric coating tinted with a yellowish pigment, which makes the concrete look somewhat weathered.
Natural stone facades
The facades are covered with 100×60 cm red sandstone panels from Agra in India. A random pattern with four shades of red has been made in order to break up the large facade surface areas, whereby no more than two panels of the same colour are adjacent to each other. Walls, floors and ceilings of the galleries are covered with the same red sandstone panels, which emphasises the sculptural nature of the volume. The plaza and pavilion are also constructed of the same stone, so that the complex forms one single unit. The red sandstone is hand carved and unpolished, creating a relief design on the visible side of the stone, thereby giving the building an accentuated tactile appearance.
Hands and medallions
A metal ornament in the form of a hand is mounted on every third stone. The pattern of 3185 hands lies over the stone facades as an elegant veil. This pattern continues inside the building in the form of metal medallions incorporated in the panels.
Corrugated glass facades
The monolithic nature of the building is softened by the corrugated glass curtain that enfolds the gallery. This transparent facade is made up of large glass sheets, 5.5 metres high and 1.80 metres wide. The sheets are curved into an S wave with a depth of 60 cm, which stabilises every glass sheet and makes it self-supporting, so the sheets can stand free on the floor without any window profiles. In this way, maximum transparency is accomplished without interrupting components. In the corners two glass panes support one another up to a height of 11 metres. A steel tube suspended from a heavy chain ensures horizontal transfer of the wind loads.
A sustainable building within strict museum requirements
The basic assumption of the MAS design was to achieve a low-energy and sustainable concept within the strict international standards imposed on the indoor climate of a museum. In order to prevent this strict climate requirement from applying to the entire building, the option was selected to establish different climate zones in the building: the museum halls on the one hand, and the gallery on the other.
A stable climate in the museum halls
A strict stable museum climate of 22 degrees Celsius and 55% relative humidity prevails in the museum halls. The halls are located in the closed building components that are best insulated without window displays, thus limiting loss of energy. This coincides with the basic assumption of the museum that the historic objects may not be exposed to daylight and that many exhibits will include multimedia presentations.
Variable semi-controlled climate in the gallery
The character of the gallery is transparent due to the large glass displays that provide a maximum view on the city. Since no special museum requirements are imposed on this circulation area, a variable semi-controlled climate has been chosen; the indoor temperature fluctuates depending on the season. A temperature of about 12 degrees has been selected as the lower limit for the indoor temperature of the gallery in the winter, and an upper limit of about 30 degrees in the summer.
Energy balance between the museum halls and the gallery
The balance between the museum halls with a high energy demand and the galleries with a lower one is utilised by exhausting the ventilation air from the museum halls via the galleries in the interim seasons, so that the residual heat from the halls heats up the gallery. Inversely, in the cold periods the gallery functions as a conservatory that captures the solar heat and preheats the ventilation air for the museum halls.
The gallery as energy buffer
The gallery functions as an energy buffer, whereby the stone masses of the galleries are heated or cooled depending on the season and the hour of the day. The inertia of the stones regulates the buffering of the solar energy. A water-bearing system has been installed in the floor which can transport both warm and cold water. This system makes it possible to compensate for the differences in temperature between the north side and the south side of the building.
Cooling with dock water
The MAS will be cooled by means of the dock water from the Bonapartedok, which always has a lower temperature than the air. The difference in temperature between the dock water and the outside air is utilised by means of pumps and heat exchangers to cool the ventilation air. In this way primary energy is collected from the immediate surroundings in a sustainable manner.
The entire installation for heating, cooling and ventilation is set up de-centrally. A separate air conditioning unit is set up on every storey so that the climate for each museum hall can be regulated separately.
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