Seleccionar página

After eighteen years of planning and renovation, «Kanaal», the project of Belgian interior designer and art dealer Axel Vervoordt, with permanent art installations and several galleries for temporary exhibitions, was finally opened to the public in 2017 in Wijnegem, just outside Antwerp (Belgium) and a few kilometres from Liège.

© Jan Liégeois

A long-planned project

In a former red brick malt distillery built in 1857, next to a grain storage silo and not far from the mighty Albert Canal, almost a hundred metres wide at its widest point, Belgian architectural studios Stéphane Beel Architects, Coussée & Goris and Bogdan & Van Broeck, together with Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki, have designed a multipurpose building containing the head offices of Axel Vervoordt Antiquarian, , and thirty private offices. Van Broeck, together with Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki, have designed a multipurpose building housing the headquarters of Axel Vervoordt Antiquarian, thirty other private offices, a hundred or so apartments and several organic food shops, a restaurant, an auditorium, showrooms and, most importantly, Kanaal’s workshops and exhibition spaces, which occupy 13,100 square metres.

Almost two decades have passed since Axel Vervoordt bought his first plot of land to site the installation of the Anglo-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor’s «On the Edge of the World», a dome-shaped hanging structure of a dozen square meters that resembles a giant red hat. Following this art installation, the art dealer decided to expand his grounds and for this reason acquired the old distillery with its attached huge 32-metre high silo, which is equivalent to a dozen plants.

Preserving the original charm

The malt factory has remained practically intact, both in its structure and its interior, and among its many rooms we can find the «Escher» gallery (in honour of the Dutch graphic artist), ten metres high, and in which we can still see the large openings that once housed the grain silos, with nested staircases and circular cuts in the ceiling where the silos once stood, The «Karnak» space, dedicated to the permanent exhibitions of the Axel and May Vervoordt Foundation, with its twenty or so sturdy one-metre diameter concrete columns designed to support the weight of the millions of tonnes of grain that the building once housed on top.

The magic of black

Vervoordt and Tatsuro Miki designed the interior of the main building, the old distillery, with dark colours, black and grey, unlike the vast majority of art galleries and museums, where.white prevails, because in Vervoordt’s opinion the white walls steal the limelight of the artwork, while the black walls, however, according to his belief, achieve the opposite: that the art piece itself stands out thanks to its own light and becomes the real protagonist. The creators, Vervoordt and Miki, redesigned the old chapel, which they christened «Beyond», to establish rooms in the manner of «dark cubes», where visitors can meditate.

© Axel Vervoordt Company

Attached to the main building are the eight former grain silos, circular in shape and of colossal magnitude due to their great height, now converted into residential buildings. Six of the silos have remained unaltered externally, with the only modification being the opening of small hollows for the windows, placed unevenly on their earth-coloured façade to allow sunlight into the interior of the homes. Two other silos were demolished and in their place two slender square-shaped buildings were built, connected to the round silos by connecting glass walkways.

© Axel Vervoordt Company

Glass as a unifying element

These new buildings have a glazed façade that contrasts with the surface of the silos, with an almost hermetic impression, except for the small openings for the skylights. The old silos house the dormitories, while the new buildings house the common areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and lounges, along with the elevators. By placing new transparent silos on opposite sides, and in the middle of the existing silos, the contours and solidity of the complex are preserved, while the vertical circulation is combined with the roundness of the adjacent white silos and linked with the same type of bridge. In turn, two more buildings have been built to extend the surroundings, both of them with exposed brick and dissimilar terraces at the corners, each designed in a different way from the rest and resembling one of Escher’s best-known drawings.

© Jan Liégeois

In total, all the buildings add up to 55,000 m2, and form a kind of city in the countryside, just over twenty minutes from the centre of Antwerp. They form a space where art, architecture and nature combine to highlight the particularity of the place, a site of enormous beauty in front of a water channel that flows into the Scheldt River, which in turn empties its waters into the North Sea.

© Jan Liégeois

Avant-garde art

Within the permanent collection of Kanaal we can see sculptures by Anish Kapoor – with his monumental work already mentioned above, «On the edge of the world» – and art installations by James Turrell, works by Lucio Fontana, Otto Boll, Gutai and Zero, also three amazing paintings by the Japanese abstract painter Kazuo Shiraga, and the sculpture of a Luohan monk from the 13th century A.D. And as temporary activities, which change four times a year, there are, for example, performances by the Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramović.

© Jan Liégeois

A natural environment with wonder as an object

The gardens surrounding the setting have been designed by the landscape designer and architect Michel Desvigne, and in them we can find lush vegetation, winding paths in the manner of small forest tracks, and open courtyards surrounded by trees and plants where the clarity of the light comes due to the open space offered by the great Albert Canal and which amaze the visitor by their play of light.

A visit to Kanaal is an amazing experience for the viewer. A space born from the genius of this Belgian antique dealer that makes a visit to the city of Antwerp even more worthwhile.

Related content