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-meter 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 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 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 square is sunken and forms a framework for the large mosaic by artist Luc Tuymans.
In 1999 NRA and Bureau Bouwtechniek won the competition for the MAS.
They started building in 2006 and handed over the building to the city of Antwerp in 2010.
Bureau Bouwtechniek is a multi-disciplinary study- and consulting bureau specialized in building techniques .
For the MAS, BB took on the technical assistance during the design process, the layout of the implementation plans, the elaboration of technical details, the application for the building license, the format of the architectural specifications, estimating and the monitoring of the execution.
In collaboration with
The collaboration with NRA was exceptional in the sense that the architect was able to give his supporting partner the liberty to, while respecting the concept and aesthetics of the design, look into technical solutions and interventions that would eventually have a visible effect on the final result. Being able to work together in such a context of mutual trust leads to collaborations in which the partners can rise to their full potential for the benefit of the project.
The MAS was Bureau Bouwtechniek's first project of this scale and undoubtedly launched the firm in a new league.
In 1999 Neutelings Riedijk Architects won a design competition for a newly to be constructed museum building to accommodate the collections of the Museum for Ethnography, the National Maritime Museum and the Butcher’s Hall Museum. The refreshing design consisted of a stack of 10 concrete boxes, each positioned at a quarter turn relative to the other. The space outside the box functions as a public gallery that offers a special and ever changing view of Antwerp and that leads to the restaurant on the roof. Columns and other constructive elements were absolutely not permitted to impede the view. Besides, they would have disturbed the illusion of the floating boxes. This meant that a special load-bearing structure had to be designed to hold the concrete boxes. The main structure is a core of in-situ poured concrete. The walls are 35 cm thick. All lifts, stairs, toilets and the (sizeable) technical installations are installed inside this core. The museum’s tremendous weight is beneficial – it ensures that the building is less sensitive to horizontal forces. The mass increases the stability of the building. Of course there is a flip side as well. The substratum ultimately has to support this mass. A pile foundation was constructed for this purpose. To limit subsidence to a minimum, the piles were subsequently subjected to post-injection. Projecting, story-high steel trusses are attached to this concrete shaft that track the spiral-shaped movement and that carry the concrete boxes containing the museum halls. The trusses on each floor are turned 90 degrees relative to each other. The smart part of this constructive configuration is that the truss beams that are perpendicular to the box also help support it. In other words, the concrete floor on the 5th floor is supported by the upper rails of the four rafters on the 4th floor and by the bottom rails of the four rafters on the 5th floor. Therefore each of the concrete boxes is in fact carried by 8 beams. In spite of this the concentrated forces produced by the truss beams exceeded the absorbing capacity of the concrete core. This is partially due to the heavy façades of the boxes. They are manufactured using 25-cm thick prefab concrete clad with 8-cm thick natural stone. To offset the large forces produced by the rafters, steel buffer plates were poured into the concrete. They ensure that the forces are spread across a larger surface. The 11-metre tall glass façades form a special part of the structure. Based on the experience gained with the Casa da Musica in Porto, it was decided to opt for undulating glass plates. Due to their 11-metre height the undulating glass plates are supported on one another and are supported halfway up by a steel tube that serves as a wind beam. The tube is suspended by chains from the concrete box above it. Under influence of changing loads the concrete boxes will move independently. The bottom and upper connections of the glass to the concrete must be capable of absorbing these movements.