Antwerp’s Rubens House to have new visitor centre by 2024

Italian portico.

On Tuesday, City of Antwerp presented a project for the future of the Rubens House at the Wapper in Antwerp. It includes a brand new visitor centre and a rejuvenation of the mansion‘s garden. 

The visitor centre is designed by Robbrecht en Daem architecten, an architects’ studio famous enough to have a Wikipedia page. The entrance will be situated on Hopland, a street perpendicular to the Wapper. 

The centre will comprise visitor facilities such as a cloakroom, toilets , a café, a reading room and a comprehensive library. The new centre is an important step in the future of the Rubenshuis and the Rubenarium

More visitors

The Rubenshuis welcomes some 200,000 visitors coming from some thirty countries in non-pandemic years. 

Tourisme Vlaanderen (Tourism Flanders) and the City of Antwerp help finance this 17 million euro project. Construction starts this fall and should be completed by 2024. 

Artist, diplomat and businessman 

Pieter Paul Rubens‘ works weave the treads which make Antwerp today”, says mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA). “Rubens was not only an artistic wonderboy, he also was a driven businessman. He was a diplomat, he was a popular visitor to Europe‘s kings, princes and cardinals.”

“The masterplan will revitalize the Rubens experience. It will also revitalize our cultural and touristic life after the current sanitary crisis.” 

Palazzo at the Scheldt

Alderwoman for Culture Nabilla Ait Daoud (N-VA) calls Rubens’ mansion a “palazzo at the Scheldt“. Indeed, Rubens was inspired by his travels in Italy.

Flemish minister for Tourism Zuhal Demir joins in. “The renovated house will be an inspiration. That’s why Flanders invests 2.9 million in this project.”

Interview with architect Paul Robbrecht

Transformations

The glass pavilion on the Wapper will be removed, so that the view of the Rubens House is fully restored. The architects make use of one opening in the area: an undeveloped strip behind the garden wall in Hopland.

Robbrecht en Daem were inspired for this design by the biography and oeuvre of Rubens. The bureau discovered that Rubens had a few houses along Hopland where he housed his book collection. These houses have now disappeared.

It gave the architects the idea to conceive the left and right side walls of the building as one enormous bookcase that extends over all floors, and to keep the central zone open.

In addition, books and reference works are the working tools of the Rubenianum: the dilapidated accommodation in the Kolveniersstraat will being demolished and the center will be housed on the second and third floor of the ‘book tower’, with a reading room, a library and study areas.

The café will be installed on the first floor, and on the fourth and fifth floors they will be house staff offices.

The ground floor will house the reception and the bookshop . By making the front and rear facade of the reception in glass, the visitor gets a complete overview of the entire site at a glance.

Inspiration

Robbrecht was inspired by Rubens’ oeuvre. “In his altarpieces and tombs, he often works with diagonals in the structure. At first glance, our design is quite symmetrical. We have added diagonal passages to that.”

“A bit like the Baroque style, which also gave movement and flow to the classical form language that preceded it. We have applied this in the winding stairs that connect the floors. The visitor’s trail, which runs from the reception to the experience center, and then to the Rubens House and the inner garden, also contains waves and arches. “

This experience center is a new element that is being added to the site. It is situated in an underground floor and gives the visitor an introduction to the life and work of Rubens. It evokes the hustle and bustle of his studio, where numerous students and specialists in animals, plants and nature were active. Another floor below will act as a depot and technical facilities.

Sources: press release, Gazet van Antwerpen, De Standaard

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