100 Het Steen Antwerp
All-inclusive design brief for the development of ‘Het Steen’ into a tourist reception and visitor centre
Procedure Open Call 3101
Client City Antwerp
Surface 3700 m2
Date 2016 – 2021
The eventful construction history of the Steen lies at the basis of the design. After centuries of being part of the city walls, the collection of buildings acquired a freestanding character around 1890 after the straightening of the Scheldt, known as the Steen of Antwerp.
In order to restore the strong character of the freestanding castle, invented in the 19th century, we replaced the extension from the 1950s, which did not register in this story. It offers the opportunity to strengthen the different aspects – history, passage, landmark.
We are making one building in which different layers of time are reconciled.The typical characteristics of a castle – stone walls with cut-outs, bay windows, niches, rising and falling eaves and towers – form the elements of a contemporary extension.
The facades are made of brick in colours that follow the palette of the old natural stone castle wall. The dark base with the lighter stones in the upper layers – a result of different natural stones used in the building phases over the centuries and patina – are carried over into the extension, albeit with a very gradual gradient. Together with artist Pieter Vermeersch, the final colour gradient was determined through a careful selection of bricks and extensive full-scale testing. The brickwork is supplemented with architectural concrete for important elements in the facades, such as window frames and eaves. The closed nature of the new wall at quayside level fits in perfectly with the urgent protection against rising water levels and becomes part of the Sigma Plan.
The interiors are characterised by sober materials: brick walls, natural stone or wood floors. Generous staircases connect the whole. Traditional elements such as fireplaces and bay windows create a delicate and intimate atmosphere, which also allows for easy integration of contemporary technical installations. The windows frame the imposing views and the window sills invite you to sit and watch.
The Steen is now a tourist reception and visitor centre. In the old part, the long and layered history and character of the city by the river is explained. In the extension, a departure hall for the cruises, also a multifunctional hall, will be located below; at the main entrance, the reception area will be continued on the 1st floor; the roof will be a public roof terrace, accessible from inside and from the tower with public access to the Noorderterrace. The building is conceived for the long term. Just as its use has often changed over time, the history of Steen will not end with it.