Antwerp’s new Aan de Stroom Museum (MAS) is located in the Eilandje harbour district on the banks of the Schelde, north of the historic city centre. It stands on the site of the Hanseatic League headquarters, destroyed by fire in 1893. The rise of modern docks to the north led to the area’s decline until a recent urban renewal plan gave it a new lease of life bringing in institutions like the Flemish Ballet Company, the city Archives and the future Red Star Line Museum, a museum on emigration. The neighbourhood now also boasts residential buildings by Hans Kolhoff, Diener & Diener, David Chipperfield and Gigon Guyer.
Architect practice Neutelings Riedijk won the international competition for an entry that resonates to its urban context while standing out as a new city landmark. The MAS is a 60-metre high tower comprising ten distinct red sandstone blocks stacked one on top the other interspersed by layers of glazed curtain walling. They symbolise the layers of history linking past and present. Metal ornamentals in the shape of a hand, the symbol of the city, relieve the solid stretches of stone. The same red Indian stone, in four different hues, also lines interior walls, floors and false ceilings.
The structural frame is a central, 12 metres square core. Steel beams, also 12 metres long, extend from this central volume ensuring the equilibrium of the tower and supporting the outer vertical infills. The floors are pre-fabricated reinforced concrete waffle slabs.
Each block is rotated 90° so that the internal moving staircases spirals gradually up through the building moving through the history of the city. The ground floor is occupied by the entrance hall, cafeteria, storage space and garages. A children’s activity centre is on the first level while the second to eighth floors are given over to flexible, multi-purpose spaces forming a single vertical exhibition gallery. The exhibition layout is identical on each level: four small rooms, one medium and one large dark space – a black box for video projections. Services are grouped in the central core of the building. The top (ninth) floor comprises a spacious terrace with views across the Schelde, a restaurant with all-around full-height glazing and a functions room.
At the base of the tower, surrounded by pavilions and terraces, the museum forecourt is paved in the same natural stone as the building façades. In the centre, a slightly sunken mosaic by Luc Tuymans.
The vertical gallery and museum rooms form two different, yet interconnected climatic zones: 22° C and 55% humidity in the rooms, and a range of 12° C to 30° C in the gallery. Excess energy in one zone flows into the other, cooling or heating depending on the season. The gallery is also an energy buffer thanks to the thermal inertia provided by the stone. Temperature differences between north and south sides are compensated for by underfloor water circulation. A heat exchanger uses water from the nearby canal to supply warmed or cooled air as required.