ANTWERP | Instant divide over Daniel Libeskind’s transformation design for Boerentoren

If billionaire owner Fernand Huts gets his way, Antwerp‘s own skyscraper Boerentoren or Farmers’ Tower will get a huge ‘crown’ designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind. The landmark is being endowed with a new crown that will provide a 360° panorama across the northern port city. It’s far from a surprise the concept divides public and political opinion. 

The Boerentoren in 2020.

Highstreet bank KBC sold the tower to port company Katoen Natie in 2020.  Currently, the 90-year-old skyscraper at the beginning of the Meir is being stripped while asbestos is removed. Daniel Libeskind will work in conjunction with the Belgian architects of ELD.

The choice of Libeskind is the result of a competition launched by Katoen Natie.  The idea is to preserve the architectural heritage of the Boerentoren, but to create added value to benefit culture and provide new exhibition halls.

The revamped tower will not include any housing or hotels. A bar, a restaurant and a panorama terrace are planned. The building, when finished, will not exceed the cathedral in height. That is an important aspect not to offend Antwerpians. Not that people of Antwerp are so religious, far from it, but we do love our cathedral. 

Alterations

The concept will now be put to various authorities, the Flemish master builder, heritage and urban planning authorities and the fire service, and as a result may still undergo changes.

Art and culture

“In its day the Boerentoren was an unprecedented art deco design, just like the Empire State Building in New York, where I live” said Libeskind. “It was a private building with flats and offices. Today we are transforming the entire complex into a public space for art”.

“The whole building will be emptied. Low ceilings will have to make way for space and vertical areas where we can create art.”

Hundreds of people, standing in the crown at the top, will be able to enjoy a panorama of the city all at the same time. 

Under Libeskind’s design a new bow is added to the edifice, a shaft with loads of space for plants.  “Botanic elements are being added to the Farmers’ Tower” says Libeskind.

Removing the asbestos will take three years. The construction of the new structures will take a further three. In six years or so the Boerentoren will once again become accessible to all.

Reactions from politicians

City government officials are careful in their reactions. Huts has money and heaps of it and thus is powerful. 

“It goes without saying that we will watch over the view of one of the most distinctive buildings of our city. Designs are free, but are subject to the intensive process that is running for this heritage site with the city architect”, says mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA).

Alderman for City Development Annick De Ridder (N-VA) also emphasizes nothing is given. “This proposal must first be assessed by numerous public services. Think of the services of the city architect, heritage, spatial planning, fire brigade, to name but a few. It is therefore still much too early, especially as the competent alderman, to make firm statements about this.”

City councillor Niel Staes from opposition party Groen (Green) demands involvement from the public. “Let’s not forget the lesson from the renovation of Het Steen. Iconic places deserve a full-fledged urban debate. Whether it concerns the future of the Boerentoren or the Stadsschouwburg, involve various experts and residents. Not doing so is a recipe for resistance.

Reactions from the public

It’s no surprise reactions from the public are divided between pros and cons. Some say the silhouette of the tower should remain. Others hail the ‘avant-garde ‘ vision. 

Critics link it to megalomaniac cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. People who like the concept on the other hand say people just need time to get used to it.

At the time of writing, it seems more people dislike than like the concept.

Debate

“We have to give Huts what is due to Huts: he donates the Boerentoren to the people of Antwerp. No very expensive apartments, no lofts, offices or commercial spaces where only the happy few can enjoy the unique cityscape. No, the entire building is intended for the public, for art and for culture, after a thorough clean-up and renovation that is unaffordable for normal mortals or the Flemish authorities. thank you”, Gazet van Antwerpen journalist Dirk Hendrikx says. 

“But a crown? Relegate the Boerentoren to a support for Libeskind’s latest creation? We need to think very carefully about that. Let the debate begin.”

Predictable 

Arguments pro and con are predictable. Let’s face it: you like it or not.

Personally, I think it doesn’t fit the heart of Antwerp. And I don’t care if it’s the same what people said when the Boerentoren was built in the first place. 

The Boerentoren is a pretty phallus with simple, striking lines. I am not wowed by a big name such as Libeskind. Place your tower in another area of town. 

On the look of Antwerp

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Famo says:

    Absolutely disgusting. Just restore it to its art-deco original style.
    Libeskind is very welcome to borrow another beautiful tower on ‘t eilandje or nieuw Zuid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      We’re no fans either…

      Like

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