Dating back to the Middle Ages, Antwerp has been one of the oldest international port cities in Europe, a place of exchange and encounter. Cutters, traders and polishers made themselves comfortable in the city, especially of course, in the old Diamond District. And let’s be honest with each other here, who doesn't like a good ol’ polished and shiny diamond!
However Antwerp is growing into a beautiful fashion and art capital slowly but surely, with magnificent little local designer boutiques and art galleries. The Museum Aan De Stroom is no ‘little’ or ‘cute’ anything really, it has become a new, grande and exciting landmark for the historical city! It opened its doors to the public in May 2011 showcasing the connections between Antwerp and the world and became the largest in the city.
Hard to miss, the intriguing structure towers over the river telling stories with the traces of the old port city and its exchanges. This museum is no ordinary museum which displays modern or contemporary art, for example. It has united collections from all over Antwerp to tell a beautifully visual story. The collections are related to many subjects which are well organised within the building, such as ethnography, maritime history, urban history, popular culture and more.
They call it the “tower of tales”... One of the many exciting things we encountered while comfortably roaming through the 10 floors of the MAS was the first floor, in which you find yourself in a Visible Storage depot. Something about moving through the storage in its gloomy setting really sets the mood for the upcoming exhibitions and the city of Antwerp.
The museum is not just a phenomenal piece of architecture wedged between two old harbour basins right next to the River Scheldt, it is also one of the most beautiful viewing towers we have ever been to. Every level has a 360 panoramic view of the city, which just keep growing with every floor. The 60 meter high museum was designed by celebrated Dutch architectural firm, Neutelings Riedijk Architecten. In its place once stood a warehouse from the 16th century, the Hansahuis. Although the structure is contemporary and elegant, it does remind you of warehouses that used to stand in this very neighbourhood. Although the glass and materials chosen for the museum are absolutely stunning, it does have a flair of industrial, which we personally love!
The floors, walls and ceilings are mostly cladded with the same striking red stone, which is from Indian sandstone cut by hand. We loved how seamless the material just flows into the interior from outside and seems to just naturally be everywhere! The separate volumes, from afar, look like they are supported by huge glass tubes, then you come closer and realise that it is waved glass sheets that give the facade this unique look and finish. While taking in the views from each level, these waves created nooks, and these nooks turned into private little viewing points for the visitors. Almost like your own private moment with Antwerp.
The floors are each turned 90 degrees successively, creating a spiralling path through the museum around a central axis. Although this structure is a new museum for the city, walking through it felt like it had always been there. The MAS just felt like it belongs to Antwerp and nowhere else.
As we got higher within the museum we got to a point where we had the most beautiful view of the museum square. Based on a memorial plaque to the painter Quentin Matsys the square is covered in a 1600 sqm mosaic by Antwerp artist Luc Tuymans (born 1958). His work, named “Dead Skull” shows a skull and a coat of arms. This work was meant to combine and unite illustration paintings of Flemish history with contemporary art.
By the time we left the MAS we had spent more than three hours in the museum and trust me, you will too. It is not an overbearing or hectic environment to walk through and discover. The way through the building is extremely smooth, the clever circulation and constant panoramic views would have made us go up ten more levels without noticing. Although the restaurant on the 9th floor was unfortunately closed, we promised ourselves I would come back to try it and enjoy the incredible view with something delicious to eat!
The museum shop and cafe on the ground floor merge perfectly into the environment and stay true to the industrial yet modern touches throughout their design. We must say the MAS is definitely a must see when you travel through Europe.. and yes it is worth going to Antwerp, if not for the diamonds, beer and outrageously delicious fries - then for the MAS.