The construction of the brick "apartment block" on the right side of Het Steen is frustrating residents of Antwerp. Image: Azaav.org/Geert B.

Belgian residents unhappy with medieval fortress’ transformation into “boring apartment building”

Residents of Antwerp in Belgium are upset about the latest renovations of the city’s oldest building. The municipality decided in 2016 that ‘Het Steen’ would become the new reception building for cruise tourists. Five years later, locals are unhappy about the medieval fortress’ transformation into a “boring apartment building.”

The Antwerp city architect, Christian Rapp, remains calm despite all the criticism on social media. He mentioned that the current design was the best entry of 5 plans, Flemish news platform VRT NWS reported. Rapp also thinks it is still too early to judge the reconstruction as it is still in process.

Lack of cohesion

The oldest parts from Het Steen date from around the 12th and 13th century. The fortress used to control access to the river the Schelde. Over the years, it had various functions, including a prison and a maritime museum. The extension built in the 1950s has now been demolished and will be replaced by the criticised terminal for cruise tourists.

It’s a shame to see such a historic building with such a modern block: it’s ugly to look at.

“What they have built now is a boring apartment building where people don’t want to live if they don’t have to”, a passerby told VRT NWS about the new annexe. “There is also no relationship with the history of Steen itself.” 

The lack of cohesion in the historic building frustrated another passerby. “Either you add something that fits or something that stands out. But now, they put an ugly building onto it”, they concluded. “It’s a shame to see such a historic building with such a modern block: it’s ugly to look at.” (Text continues below image)

Het Steen before constructions began. Image: Leonid Andronov (Canva) CC0

Something more fitting

According to city architect Rapp, it is still too early to make a judgment: “Only judge the building when the Steenplein (the plaza in front of the building ed.) and the quays have been constructed and when you can see the foundations of the castle”, he said. “Then it will come across less negative, in my opinion.”

Some residents disagree with Rapp and started a petition to tear down the “mediocre architectural” construction and replace it with something more fitting for Antwerp’s oldest building. They can count on the support of at least 17.000 others who signed the petition. As the construction of the terminal is almost finished, Antwerp’s disgruntled residents need to hurry to protect their iconic fortress. 

Source: VRT NWS (Dutch) and Azaav.org (Dutch)

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