The former premises of the National Bank of Belgium (NBB) in Antwerp have finally new tenants. Interior design store Donum will be the first tenant of a building which will mostly be occupied by offices.
In 2013 the NBB – the institution – ended its banking activities in the building. Since then this stately financial palace has been empty. It was last open to the public in 2013.
The NBB building is a triangle between the Frankrijklei (France Avenue), the Mechelsesteenweg (Mechelen Causeway) and the Bourlastraat (Bourla Street).
The Frankrijklei facade features the Director’s Apartments. Donum will occupy some 1,600 square metres of the ground floor of the the legs.
Other spaces will be occupied by offices and probably retail. Plans for a deluxe hotel have been shelved. Shame, because the building has the allure for a grand hotel. An InterContinental perhaps.
The institution of the National Bank of Belgium was created by then Minister of Finances Walthère Frère-Orban (Liberal Party) in 1850.
At first the NBB housed in a townhouse in the Huidevettersstraat (Tanners Street) but it needed more space. This was found on the then Kunstlei (Arts Avenue) adjacent to Sint-Jorispoort (St. George’s Gate).
1866-1868 marked a time of expansion for the City of Antwerp. The old Spanish walls were demolished, the Leien (Avenues) were created and thus there was space for the NBB.
Brussels architect Hendrik Beyaert (1823-1894) was appointed in 1872 to draw some plans. Beyaert designed a total concept, including interior. The style of the building is described as “eclectic, with a preference for Neo-Renaissance”.
Other men involved were Paul Hankar (1859-1901), Jules Pecher (1830-1899), Jacob De Braekeleer (1823-1905), J.-B. De Boeck (1826-1902) en J.-B. Van Wint (1829-1906). The building was inaugurated in 1879.
20th and 21st century
Antwerp was briefly Belgium’s capital in the second half of 1914. King Albert I resided in the Royal Palace on the Meir. The Royal Flemish Opera was used as by the Chamber of Representatives. The Senate used the Flemish Theatre.
I once heard the NBB building was also built with such a war scenario in mind, but I can’t find evidence of this.
From the 1950s, refurbishing works emphasized functionality and security. The Director’s Apartments were renovated in the 1970-1991 period.
Banking is constant evolving industry. In the 21st century there’s less and less need for physical banking services such as processing bank notes and coins.
The NBB will now soon get a new life.