Attention has been focused on the MAS as the ultimate sign of the transformation of the abandoned Antwerp docklands into an environment for urban living and service industries. The dominant presentation – that of a public building inviting Antwerp’s citizens and visitors to view and embrace the metamorphosis of the docklands – was clearly intended and strategically orchestrated. If anything, the design of the building itself, the most significant Flemish project to date by Neutelings Riedijk Architects, confirmed the reading of the MAS as an urban event.
The overriding ideas informing the design, after all, operate at an urban scale rather than on that of a building. Thus we see the MAS alternatively as a 65 metre high stumpy tower clad in dark red (Indian) sandstone and assembled from a series of stacked containers, or as a public route spiralling its way up to a free-to-access roof terrace.
At no point on the way up from the entrance hall via the escalators and expansive landings – each of them a belvedere in itself – is there any doubt about the nature of this route as a public event. The absence of barriers, the use of the same sandstone for the floors and ceilings, the formidable height of the corrugated glass panels providing enclosure from the elements; all of this is of a scale that one readily associates with urban infrastructure rather than an architectural interior. This is not to say that there is a lack of refinement. The way in which the glass emerges from the floors and ceilings without the trace of a technical mediation, for example, is an exercise in the artful suppression of conventional building detail. Its apparent nonchalance and generic character, which allows no exceptions to the simple rules of planning and construction, is carefully contrived.
This text is based on an article by Christoph Grafe, published in Architecture Review Flanders N°10. Radical Commonplaces. European Architectures from Flanders.