Renovation of three historical buildings

The refurbishment of the nineteenth century buildings along Antwerp’s main shopping street expresses a strong sympathy for nineteenth century design attitudes.

Large shopping streets are juxtaposed with abandoned upper floors. As a result, streets die out in the evening, leaving no inhabitants left to interact with the public space. This project was set up by the city authority to enliven Antwerp’s main shopping axis. Eight rental apartments are organised over the four upper floors of three historical buildings.

The three adjoining eclectic buildings are accessed by one central staircase. This shifting of the plan allows for maximum spatial efficiency of the commercial ground floors, and for the organisation of city apartments in a horizontal way above. Each apartment spans
two of the three historical buildings, which necessitates the use of steps, cutouts and breakthroughs.

Contrary to a 20th century idea of consistent and linear thought, we follow a line of association and improvisation. Haphazard situations generate manifold solutions. Instead of a grand central idea, small and midscale interventions react on small and midscale problems. Instead of following principles and introducing systems, we pursue a casual renovation along the themes contained within the existing and its variations within the existing eclectic structure. This renovation manages to strengthen the relation between the outer appearance and the interiors, despite the vigour of the intervention.

The project demonstrates great respect for the material and construction logic of the original nineteenth century buildings. The physical approach imitates the original; plaster profiling, marble features and painted woodwork are key players in the refurbishment. Thin acoustic floors allowed for the original floor structures to be maintained. Modest structural interventions permitted the ground floor shops to continue functioning during the renovation works.
The restoration of the facades alone comprised 20% of the budget. 30.000 euros alone were spent on restoring its gold leaf.