Fernand Huts reveals plans for Antwerp’s Boerentoren: ‘We choose radical culture’

The entrepreneur Fernand Huts hires the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind for the new use of the Boerentoren in Antwerp. The tower will remain intact, but there will be a glass crown on top, as well as a glass column along the side. The filling will be devoted almost exclusively to culture.

Antwerp entrepreneur Fernand Huts, managing director of logistics company Katoen Natie, wants to transform the iconic Boerentoren into a new cultural gem in the city. On Tuesday, he and his foundation The Phoebus Foundation presented the first design plans for the building, which he bought in 2020. There will be space for catering, but Huts primarily wants to create exhibition space to ‘bring young and new talent out of the shadows’.

The KBC tower, as the building is officially called, has been closed since 2018 after asbestos was found in various places. When it became clear that the remediation of the complex would take much longer than expected, KBC put the tower forward. Huts said at the time that he wanted to turn it into a ‘cultural tower’, but initial ideas also included apartments and offices. That idea fell through.

For the first time, the Boerentoren will have a public function.

Fernand Huts

director of Katoen Natie

‘For the first time, the Boerentoren will have a public function, and we will invest radically in culture,’ says Huts. There will be space for temporary exhibitions on different floors and there will certainly be a permanent exhibition on the history of Boerentoren. There will also be an event room under the panorama room. Hytter could not yet say whether access to the tower will be charged.

Ground Zero

“The clean-up work to get rid of the asbestos has been going on for a year now and will take at least two more years. The entire building will be stripped: only the facade and the steel frame will remain, but the inside will be completely removed,’ says Huts. Then the reconstruction can begin. We see it big, we don’t aim for mediocrity’.

To this end, Huts joins forces with the Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. He is best known for the new wing of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the reconstruction of Ground Zero in New York, where the WTC towers stood until the September 11 attacks. He is also the architect of the Denver Art Museum in the United States, which opened an exhibition in October with 140 works by Flemish masters from the collection of The Phoebus Foundation.

“We respect the heritage value, but we are making two major interventions,” says Libeskind. We leave the tower intact, but put a ‘crown’ on it with a panoramic room with views of the city and far beyond. In addition, we are building an additional bow along the building: all visitors must be able to move through the building there. The tower tapers towards the top, making accessibility difficult. It will be a glass column with lots of greenery and stairs and lifts.’

There will be a new panoramic ‘crown’ at the top of the tower, and a glass column with lots of greenery where the stairs and elevator will be.

This is a first design that Huts is now trying to get permission for. As an entrepreneur, Huts does not shy away from controversy, and he also expects a lot of debate now. “But a city without debate is a dead city,” says the entrepreneur. “We will enter into a debate. When it was first built, there was also local protest against the Boerentoren, and the Antwerp resident has since embraced the building. This was even the case with the Eiffel Tower.’

The Boerentoren has been there since 1931 and with its 87.5 meters was the first skyscraper in Europe. In 1975, the tower was rebuilt to 95.7 metres. It got its (derisive) name because it was built by the Algemeene Bankvereeniging, which was controlled by the Belgian Farmers’ Union. Kredietbank, now KBC, was created in 1935 from the merger of Algemeene Bankvereeniging and Kortrijkse Bank voor Handel en Nijverheid. The Boerentoren has been a listed monument since 1981.

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