Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 06.30.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT | VIEW SLIDESHOW

Mark Lamster

Big Red: Antwerp's New MAS Museum




The Bilbao Effect remains in full effect. Last month I wrote about the Orange Cube, Jakob + MacFarlane's day-glo office building that would bring new energy to the Lyon waterfront. Perhaps you've read elsewhere about Zaha Hadid's new Riverside Museum along the Clyde, which has similar aspirations for Glasgow. The subject here is an even more ambitious project, one that would similarly spur the development of a once derelict industrial waterfront in a historic if somewhat provincial European city.

That city is Antwerp, and the building in question is the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS for short), the city's extraordinary new municipal museum, designed by Willem Neutelings of Neutelings Riedijk. From a distance, this tower of red sandstone looks like an extruded Chinese puzzle, an enormous child's toy set on the edge of a tub. As I write in the Architectural Review:
Structurally, the building is a marvel. The offset sandstone boxes each project 12 meters from a concrete service core, held firm by massive steel trusses that remain exposed in the galleries. During construction, these metal braces were installed with a slight upward shift - the precise angle of deflection calculated by computer programme - and then allowed to sag into place with the added load of the sandstone panels. Another computer algorithm is responsible for the disposition of those panels, which were taken from four separate quarries and therefore have subtle gradations in tone.

The patterning is random, but constrained in such a way that three panels of the same colour never touch. In the sun, the result is a dappled effect that is beautiful; under the flat grey skies that are so common in Flanders, the panels add a surface depth and visual complexity. Inside, the sandstone panels act as pavers and wall surfaces, lending the building an overall unity and distinct sculptural quality.

The building is essentially a circulation diagram writ large. One travels up a "street" that spirals around and up the building, identifiable from the outside by its curtain wall of wavy glass. In effect the museum works something like an inverted Guggenheim, the mother of all iconic modern museums, except that here one looks out at the city rather than in at the building itself. The black box galleries are somewhat dim, but the display design by B-Architecten compensates, and there is much wonderful material to lose oneself in for many an afternoon. 

Antwerp's town fathers hope that the dramatic museum will act as a visual beacon leading visitors from the city's adjacent historic core to the dock area known as Het Eilandje, which is being vigorously replanned as a mixed-use neighborhood. Another new museum, for the Red Star Line, will open in the coming year, there are various new developments, and some beautiful old industrial buildings under restoration

The views from the MAS's walkways are almost mesmerizing. I imagine that Sebald's fictional Austerlitz, if he were around, would be captivated by the perspectives it affords of Antwerp's various warehouses, wharves, churches, towers, and—of course—its magnificent train terminal. I suspect he would also note the painful irony represented by the small metal hands that ornament its facade. These hands reference the defining urban legend of the city, in which a mythical giant would cut off the hand of anyone passing along the river who refused to pay his toll, until a local hero paid him in kind. Inevitably, though, they also recall the fate of so many Congolese victims of the Belgian colonial project, who were subject to that same brutal punishment. Their exploitation provided the capital for such grand projects as Antwerp's train terminal, and more indirectly, one could say, the MAS itself. To its credit, the museum does not shy from this history. 

A few images follow in a slideshow, for the curious.

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW


View Slideshow >>

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture. A contributing editor to Architectural Review, he is currently at work on his third book, a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow: @marklamster.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS