A late nineteenth century former chocolate factory, located in the center of Antwerp in an enclosure, was converted into 7 spacious lofts while saving and integrating the existing industrial character during the conversion. The condition of the building when found, was in deep decay. Trees where growing out of the walls, water had infiltrated, some parts had collapsed, there was heating oil contamination and the site had become a local landfill. On top of that the building had been abused on an architectural level. But we saw potential. From beneath the dust and terrible paintjob a rough diamond could emerge, providing us a view on industrial development in the area in the late nineteenth century. The municipal monuments division agreed with us to keep this building in its original character.
We took it upon ourselves to convert the building to 7 lofts. This number is the logical outcome of the building’s own morphology. The spaces inside do not differ from what was already there, neither does the finishing. In the façade, several irregularities were removed to recreate the original image. To get back to this we went through the archival records to revisit the character, spatial dimensions and divisions of the windows and repair these where needed. The façade underwent a rigorous renovation to expose the original black/red brickwork through sandblasting and redoing the joints. Any traces of age such as sagging through overload where integrated in the final vision. These traces of use serve as a witness to the industrial atmosphere.
All living units join in a central inner square where the imagery is determined by the renovated facades. Inside, the trusses and beams are used to enhance the historical value of the spatial experience. The renovation was designed to bring the historical elements like domed ceilings, cast iron structures, wooden trusses / layers of beams and brick walls into the spatial experience throughout the lofts. Each loft is unique due to the presence of various of the historic building structures, featured heavily in the organization and interior design of the spaces. Old and new join and lift one another to a higher level.
To have the building match current demands in comfort, the outer walls of the structure were isolated, as well as the flooring and the roof. Comfort was maximized by adding a subterranean parking space – a technical high flyer due to incorporation in the existing structure – accessible through a car elevator completely worked into the surrounding space. Terraces were added with due respect for the history and tectonics of the building.
We believe this project has reinvigorated a forgotten building and brought back a piece of history for coming generations to enjoy once again.