Grauwzusters Rectorate U.A.

site Lange Sint-Annastraat 7, 2000 Antwerp, BE
client University of Antwerp, Prinsstraat 10, 2000 Antwerp, BE and Ministry of the Flemish Government Department Buildings
architect VBMarchitecten with Leo Van Broeck as founding partner + AR-TE [design and execution]
structure STABO
techniques STABO
heritage Robin Engels
art integration Guy Van Bossche
photography Toon Grobet
surface 6.989 m² gross
budget 5.253.351,00 euro excl. vat and fees
timing competition 2001 | completition 2005-2007
status completed
project code V0112GRA


A neo-Gothic monastery in the historic urban fabric of Antwerp had to be transformed into a multifunctional centre for the headquarters of the Antwerp University. The monastery gave the impression to be ready for reuse. It was an introverted neo-Gothic building, designed for contemplation and humble social services and presented itself to the outside with a long, homogeneous facade that manages to be “almost absent” in the street view. Inside the neo-Gothic vocabulary stresses, culminating with the chapel, the religious basis. How to transform this building into a mixed introverted – extroverted function? The answer to that question is MULTIPLE CHOICE: not choosing, but optimising and maximising the simultaneous activities that can take place in the building. The introverted nature of the convent has been preserved, but the rigorous interior is made richer and interactive.
The chapel is restored into a space with perfect acoustics for concerts or other performances. Therefore its spatial appearance, essentially focused on celebration, remains “intact”, with the nuance that the exclusive confessional framework of this celebration is transcended. By opening a foyer towards the street, the chapel is connected both to the central circulation around the atrium and to the new access to the street. The multi-purpose buffer space created this way can be used as a walk-in, walk-out space or, if desired, even as a separate entrance, which could occasionally take the classic function of church entrance portal. In this way, within its representative, religious and cultural functions, the chapel could function for internal activities as a separate part. The view in the chapel from the street has saved it from its spatial isolation. At the same time its stigmatising effect on the rest of the building has been transformed into a more universal frame of reference. Behind the choir of the chapel on the ground, a room has been foreseen as changing room, storage and room for artists.

The central courtyard was excavated to make room for a new underground auditorium with optimum acoustics focused on speech, with good projection equipment, sound system, blinds, cloakrooms etc. For both structural and acoustic reasons a “box-in-box” system been chosen. The auditorium is structurally disconnected from the existing foundation, therefore not allowing the transmission of noise. The sloping floor ensures a good visibility of the speaker and the projection screen. A glazed strip around the ceiling allows the peripheral entry of daylight and intensifies the relationship between the basement and ground floor.
Already from the first visit to the site, it was clear that the vaulted cellars have an amazing potential. They are suited for multi-use and provide a sufficiently large, strong and sober background for various activities.
The vaulted corridors on the ground floor become a fascinating circulation space where the authentic monastic austerity is visible. They are organised around the typical courtyard, which, covered with glass, is transformed into an inner space that serves as central circulation node and representative centre of the entire building.

The existing garden showed a number of preconditions regarding the future (uncertain) or outside the control of the client (back sides of neighbouring buildings, access roads, etc.). In order to make it possible for future changes, a filter is designed between the new garden and its surroundings. On the side of the right neighbour a green hedge along the garden wall is provided. On the car park side, a high screen of stretched metal is placed, yet keeping its lower part open. There are wide parking places and a bike storage foreseen. For the garden design has been chosen for a palimpsest, a superimposition of different meanings, layers, patterns and functions. As a base layer, there is an “organic carpet”, a pattern of concentric wavy lines in which different plants and textures are applied. Then, a pattern made of paths that simply foresee all desired connections. This way the concept of the garden and its use fall naturally together. These paths are in few places widened to accommodate different functions: a table for outdoor dining, pedestals for statues, benches, etc. On top of everything comes a simple 3 x 4 grid of trees. By inserting this recognisable image, that of the monastery orchard, the garden is integrated to a spatial and historical unity. The trees provide shade and shelter, they form a green layer that makes the garden present or people working on the upper floors.