Ascent into Antwerp


Antwerp is an unappreciated beauty with a dubious reputation. But the city, which has fallen into disrepute as a bastion of Flemish nationalism, surprises its visitors with its cultural cosmopolitanism. A top source of pride is the fashion scene, which showcases its creations in the hip neighbourhood surrounding Dries van Noten’s fashion temple and the Fashion Museum opened in 2002, which the Ghent architect Marie-José Van Hee furnished with a theatrically stepped foyer serving both as an ideal place to pose and a catwalk. As the city on the Schelde became a fashion mecca towards the end of the 1980s, thanks to the meteoric rise of the “Antwerp Six”, a small architectural miracle emerged. On the rundown waterfront along the Schelde, Bob van Reeth, the father of new Flemish architecture, built the eye-catching, striped Huis Van Roosmalen and also – as part of the restoration of the burned down riverbank terraces – the Zuiderterras Café that resembles the form of a ship, while Willem-Jan Neutelings erected an apartment building whose wooden facade was intended to recall Antwerp’s maritime tradition. Gradually, politicians began to realise that Antwerp, all too entrenched in its glorious past, needed an urban renewal initiative. Inspired by the revitalisation of decrepit ports in Barcelona, San Francisco, and Sydney, a competition was organised for rejuvenating the “stad aan de stroom” situated between the highway intersection to the south and Eilandje Docks to the north, now made redundant by the new container harbour – with awards going to big names, such as Toyo Ito, Rem Koolhaas, Bob van Reeth, and Manuel de Sola-Morales. But the ambitious projects ended up being shelved, and revitalisation – based on a new master plan – proceeded on an informal basis and haltingly.

more from Roman Hollenstein at Sign and Sight here.