The Harmonie – Districts house Antwerp
Pieter Dens / Charles Dens / Atelier Kempe Thill
Antwerp, Harmoniepark 1
1844-1846 / 1889 / 2017-2021
This year (2021) another Open Monument Day was organised where we were allowed to again open the doors and welcome people to the building. Still with a mouth mask on, but it was great to interact with people without a screen in between.
This year I was allowed to give a guided tour in the newly opened district house of Antwerp: The Harmonie. It has been officially open since May. It is also the district hall where I have to be as a resident of the city of Antwerp. Visitors were allowed to walk through the entire building: the offices and the old caretaker’s house.
Party Room by Pieter Dens
In 1844 the ‘Société royale d’Harmonie’ bought this plot of land to build a summer residence. The Société was founded 30 years before and was one of the largest music associations in Belgium. A competition was launched for the design of a ball and concert hall. Pieter Dens, then 25 years old, won. The building, which was finished in 1856, looked completely different. The hall had a flat roof and was rotated 90° with the stage to the left of the entrance. Later on, Pieter Dens became known as a city architect, he held this position for 20 years.
Extension by Charles Dens
In 1889 the building was extended by Pieter Dens’ nephew, Charles Dens. He doubled the size of the hall, added a barrel vault, and moved the stage from west to north. A third of the members of the Société were Germans and they left after WWI. The building came into the hands of the city in 1923.
Dark party room
At the end of the 20th century, the hall was mainly used as a party room or event hall. The barrel vault was tucked behind a false ceiling and weird triangular structures were added to the ceilings on the sides to improve the acoustics. The condition of the hall got worse and worse. For example, a beam threatened to collapse and heavy moisture and fungus infestations were noted.
Renovation by Atelier Kempe Thill
An ‘Open Oproep’ (competition) was launched in 2010 with the assignment to transform the building into a quiet space. Atelier Kempe Thill won the contract. The plasterwork was restored and the wooden joinery was reconstructed. There were no longer any original windows or doors.
The central space was renovated with the necessary contemporary techniques. For example, it can not only serve as a ticket hall, but also for other events, such as receptions, exhibitions, performances or lectures. The counters at the entrance are on wheels and can therefore be rolled away if necessary.
The floor, columns and even the interior doors are in the same material. These were no longer in original condition. The gray color and uniformity give the room a peaceful atmosphere. The floor and columns also contain boxes with sockets and other connections. This allows the space to be used for various purposes.
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