A “daring piece of New York” or a “misplaced piece of Dubai on the Scheldt”? In Belgium, a design by the American architect Daniel Libeskind presented on Tuesday has led to much discussion.

It concerns a renovation and expansion plan for De Boerentoren in the center of Antwerp. This is a striking, 97-metre-high Art Deco building from 1931, designed by three Belgian architects. The first skyscraper in Belgium was the tallest tower building in Europe at the time.

The Antwerp entrepreneur Fernand Huts bought the building two years ago and commissioned Libeskind to turn it into a cultural centre. The American, known for the new World Trade Center (2014) in New York and the Holocaust Namen Monument in Amsterdam (2021), among other things, drew a design in collaboration with the Belgian architectural firm ELD in which the current tower is given a glass crown and is flanked by a new, even taller glass tower.

Private collections

A competition was organized for the new design in which thirty architectural firms took part. The owner, 72-year-old billionaire Huts, has promised that the building will become a public place for culture. In addition to his own art collection, he wants to show art from other private collections. In addition, there will be event spaces, cafes and restaurants, and no apartments or hotel.

Sketch for The Boerentoren in Antwerp by Daniel Libeskind.
Photo KatoenGroup/Daniel Libeskind

The design immediately elicited much debate. In The morning popped up an editorial commentary with the headline: “Antwerp does not need ostentation to be proud. Why would you want to shout out the beauty that is there?”

The Flemish master builder Erik Wieërs qualified the design on the Belgian radio on Wednesday as ‘spectacle architecture’. “The Boerentoren does not need an annex at all to be attractive.”

The 76-year-old Libeskind said at the presentation that he would empty the entire building. Floors will be removed from the building to create spacious, vertical art galleries. The glass crown on the existing building will be an event space where hundreds of people can enjoy the panoramic view at the same time. There will also be a vertical shaft with a lot of vegetation. Appropriately, according to Libeskind: “We’re adding some botanical elements to the peasants’ tower.”

According to the owner, the project could be completed in six years.

Leave a Reply