The Hansahuis, built in 1568, was the economic heart of the Hansa towns in Antwerp until it burned down in 1893. Today, on the same site a new building has risen up – the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom // Museum on the River) which brings together the collections from the former Ethnographic Museum and the National Shipping Museum and the Folklore Museum, along with part of the Vleeshuis Museum collection and the Paul and Dora Janssen-Arts collection.
In such an important location, but one with no historic architectural context, the city wished to commission a stand-alone iconic building as a centrepiece for the regeneration of the old docklands area. The sandstone and glass tower designed by Dutch architects Neutelings Riedik opened in 2011. The architects sought to create an architectural mass comprising ten gigantic natural stone trunks piled up, acting as a “warehouse of piled history in the middle of the old harbour docks”. Every storey has been rotated a quarter turn, creating a gigantic spiral into which corrugated glass is inserted to form public viewing galleries.
The facades, floors, walls and ceilings of the ten-storey tower are clad with panels of hand-cut Red Indian sandstone from Agra in India. Structurally, the main exhibition halls are formed as cantilevered halls without columns, with walls of prefabricated concrete panels having screw plugs embedded both to act as a decorative pattern and a suspension system and with the concrete finished with a yellowish tint to appear old and weathered.
The exhibition galleries are designed as flexible and adaptable boxes which can be used and arranged in many ways to suit the curators and the exhibitions. The gallery on each floor has a different theme and a different design and the walls of the escalators display large scale photographs of the 20th century history of Antwerp and its people.
The collection has over 470,000 objects and it will never be possible to show everything. One of the floors enables visitors to wander through storage racking and look behind the scenes of the museum.
The MAS café STORM on the ground floor is said to be the new place to eat and meet and on the 9th floor is Restaurant ‘t Zilte, with the two star chef Viki Geunes.
A striking building which would have been out of context in the historic centre but works here, providing new public spaces internally and externally and enabling different exhibition designs on each of the floor to reflect different themes and, along with the nearby Red Star Line Museum, acts as an anchor to the redevelopment of the riverside.