Antwerp’s governors asked local studio BEL Architecten to transform a centrally located derelict goods warehouse into a creative space for the city’s young inhabitants.
Amenities housed in the new centre include venues for music, theatre and visual arts, as well as a cafe, restaurant, kitchen, offices, computer rooms and garden. Its name, Het Bos, translates as The Forest.
The existing building was not suitable in its previous condition, due to the lack of circulation and emergency stairs, as well as the cramped layout of the rooms.
The architects resolved these issues by removing internal walls and carving a five-storey void into the centre of the warehouse that accommodates a new staircase.
“We made the building suitable by ‘taking away’ or ‘deconstructing’ instead of adding,” said architect Jeroen Beerten. “In this way we created spaces with the right dimensions for the different functions.”
The architects claimed to have removed roughly half of the original warehouse’s walls and floors to improve its functionality, including demolishing a floor to create a double-height theatre with a capacity of 80.
The interventions are clearly visible as scars on the plastered walls, and in the contrast with new brick additions used to delineate some of the rooms and improve their fire resistance.
Rather than applying render, paint or other finishes to the existing and newly exposed surfaces, the architects left them in their original state. Any additions use basic materials such as concrete or brick, which reduced costs and merged with the industrial palette.
“We made the creation of the spaces our priority so there was no money left for finishings,” Beerten explained.
“Also, the users are very creative and wanted to make the building their own, so we left them free to paint or decorate it how they want. In this case we think architecture is more about creating opportunities than limiting these creative users.”