history of the institutions
1898 The composer Peter Benoit was appointed
director of the Royal Flemish Conservatory of Music. In addition to
educating students and training artists he dreamed of involving the
whole population in the international music and theatre scene by
means of his institution. He launched the idea of a hall where not
only students but also anyone interested could participate in art
1968 The first step was taken in the realisation
of this dream. The Flemish Conservatory of Music opened on
Wezenberg, in a building designed by Léon Stynen. Since the design
was drawn up in 1958, the courses had evolved from part-time to
full-time and such new subjects as jazz were being given.
1980 deSingel opened the Red and Blue Halls. With
Frie Leysen as director, it started the 1983-84 season with an
artistic programme of its own. The centre soon developed into an
International Arts Centre. In addition to the two halls, the
extension contained accommodation for Radio 2 Antwerp and a library
tower (above the Blue Hall). Again it was designed by Léon
1995 From now on, the Conservatory, together with
the dance and drama courses, became a department of Antwerp
Polytechnic. There was an increasing need for a hall suitable for
orchestral rehearsals, public exams and chamber music concerts. To
enhance the synergy between the performing arts courses and
learning and presentation in the arts, Antwerp Polytechnic wanted
to house the drama (Herman Teirlinck Institute) and dance courses
(Higher Dance Institute) in this building too. In the meantime
there was the imminent reform of higher education, introducing the
Bachelor/Master courses (2004). In the meantime, deSingel was
continuing to develop and was expanding into an arts campus that
also housed a variety of resident ensembles such as Champ d'Action
and independent institutions such as the Flemish Architecture
Institute. deSingel presented itself as the most appropriate place
for the consolidation of the leading role Flanders played in the
network of large-scale performing arts. After all, the arts campus
had at its disposal a good basic infrastructure for presenting the
arts, and the expertise and contacts to continue developing its
distinctly international activities. But it lacked the rehearsal
rooms it needed for production work, and the infrastructure to
receive and inform the public. The Flemish Community also opted to
give a more prominent location to the Flemish Architecture
Institute, which was developing apace. To fulfil its role as an
arts campus to the full, the infrastructure had to be developed and
expanded, both for production and for learning and presentation. So
the architect Stéphane Beel was asked to examine the needs and
possibilities of the building and to carry out the extension. He
drew up a master-plan for the future of the arts campus.
2000 The first stage of Beel's master-plan was
completed. It focused on making the campus more efficient by
solving several transport and circulation problems and at the same
time creating extra space and comfort for both the Conservatory and
2010 A festive opening took place after the
completion of stage two, which facilitated and gave a face to the
major project for the future activities of deSingel international
arts campus and the Artesis Polytechnic's Royal Conservatory. The
extra 12,000 sq. m. brings the total floor area of the arts campus
up to 46,000 sq. m. This international 'art city' now makes art
interactive in real life: it is not only presented, but now also
taught (and learned) and produced.
history of the building
The period between the design and the completion of the complex of
buildings covers at least three decades. At certain moments Léon
Stynen experienced this process as a real ordeal. On the other
hand, his design went down in history as the most complete epitome
of his oeuvre.
1958 Léon Stynen (1899-1990) started on his
design for the Flemish Conservatory of Music on Wezenberg in the
green zone around Antwerp.
The site during Phase 1 (photo from Antwerp Province Architecture
1968 The Flemish Conservatory of Music opened for
business. Its shape was that of an incomplete figure eight and was
organised like a pavilion: all the rooms look out on an inner
1978 The starting signal was given for stage two
of the building.
1980 Stage two of Stynen's plan was completed.
The Conservatory was expanded with a section for Radio 2 Antwerp,
two large halls and a library tower. This extension completed the
figure of eight with a building of medium height and made deSingel
recognisable from the roads that were laid around the
1987 The building was once again extended, in
accordance with the plans drawn up by Stynen and his assistant Paul
De Meyer, with more space for the Conservatory and a small public
foyer for deSingel.
Architecture that takes shape over such a long period reflects the
changing times. Stynen conceived a unique specimen of cultural
infrastructure that was unique in Flanders. His building has
absorbed adaptations and extensions without losing its individual
character. When the need for new modification and expansion made
itself felt in 1995, the challenge was immediately obvious: how can
one handle this unique modern monument without harming it? Or how,
still in the spirit of Léon Stynen, is one to get this complex
ready for the future and thereby also enhance it?
1989 deSingel held an exhibition on the young
architect Stéphane Beel. Shortly afterwards he designed the doors
separating the corridors and the halls from the entrance hall and
made it possible to check tickets. They have been nicknamed 'the
potato doors' because they repeat the shape of Stynen's unusual
oval windows in the shape of the opaque zones on the glass.
1990 When deSingel held an exhibition of Stynen's
work, Stéphane Beel was asked to design it, and he also devised a
fascinating route inside the building. It is clear how well he
understands both the building and its designer. Beel then also
designed a number of small modifications to the Conservatory.
1995 Beel was commissioned to draw up a
master-plan for the reorganisation and expansion of deSingel and
the Conservatory. His proposal had to include solutions for the
development and ambitions of the arts campus.
2000 Stage one of the master-plan was completed.
It met the most urgent needs: an additional circulation axis was
added, plus additional dressing rooms for performers, the stage in
the Red Hall was expanded, and more space and daylight was
introduced into the performers' bar.
2002 Bert Anciaux, the Minister of Culture,
commissioned Stéphane Beel to carry out the second stage of the
project. Antwerp Polytechnic pledged its involvement too. The final
design began to take shape.
2007 Work on stage two of the master-plan
started. The arts campus was growing.
2010 The performing arts season and the
school-year started in the large new building that was designed to
enable and stimulate creativity and interaction.
- Architect of the Royal Conservatory of Music (1968), where
Radio 2 Antwerp and deSingel International Arts Centre (1980) were
later also housed.
- Stynen completed this complex in close association with his
assistant Paul De Meyer.
- He studied architecture in the Architecture Department of the
- He was an outspoken advocate of Modernism, which throughout his
long career was a source of positive inspiration for a great many
- In addition to several controversial houses built between the
wars, the former BP building and the Electrabel building in
Antwerp, he also designed the casinos in Ostend, Knokke and
- He was a friend and admirer of Le Corbusier, to whom the
refined brutalism of the Conservatory building is obviously a
- deSingel held and exhibition on Léon Stynen in 1990.
- The architect who extended the complex in 2000 and 2010.
- Studied architecture at St Luke's College in Ghent.
- In his work he makes reference to modernist and minimalist
architecture while at the same time subtly commenting on it, and
also combines pragmatism with imagination.
- He launched his career in the 1980s with several unusual houses
including Villa M in Zedelgem and the ingenious conversion of a
diary into an office building in Eeklo. He later designed, among
other things, the law courts and university forum in Ghent, Museum
M in Leuven and the Raveel Museum in Machelen-aan-de-Leie.
- deSingel held an exhibition on his work in 1989 and again in
The relationship with the surroundings: four towers
When Léon Stynen started work on the design for the Flemish
Conservatory of Music, he had an introverted music campus in mind,
located in a quiet park landscape on the outskirts of Antwerp. The
idea underlying his urban design for Wezenberg was that of a 'town
in green surroundings': a landscape based on the green hills and
the water of the city's defensive moats. His plan was to erect
several towers there.
In the end only parts of this plan were carried out, these being
the BP building (now an office block), the Crest Hotel (now the
Crowne Plaza) and deSingel.
Shortly after the completion of the first stage in 1968 - the
Conservatory's incomplete figure of eight - the Antwerp ring-road
appeared, with all its traffic, and also the railway line behind
the building, so that the city shifted irrevocably closer to
The new wing does not turn away from these busy traffic routes.
Stéphane Beel positioned the building in precisely the place where
the pulse of the city can be felt most. At several points in the
building, large windows present views of this spectacle of movement
and delay, while the skyline of the city provides a background.
the new building
The shape of the new building arose in the first instance out of
the requirements: it had to provide compact accommodation for an
extremely complex programme. What is more, it had to deal
intelligently and respectfully with a modern monument without being
Stéphane Beel's building links up with Léon Stynen's as an
independent volume, but the extension subtly adopts the proportions
and organisation of the existing building.
The new building is in two parts: a low building, an intermediate
level (these two form 'Beel Low') and a higher building ('Beel
The HIGH BUILDING is perfectly aligned with Léon
Stynen's volume and contains rooms for the Conservatory. These
rooms are arranged around two circulation axes and two voids. Each
room has daylight and a view.
The INTERMEDIATE LEVEL connects the high building
to the low and contains the most public facilities: the library and
the café-restaurant. The glass walls and absence of supporting
walls make for plenty of light and views. This transparent
intermediate level can be accessed directly via a slope that starts
at the main entrance to deSingel.
The LOW BUILDING is a closed base that links up
with Léon Stynen's existing building and contains rooms for
deSingel. In addition to an exhibition hall there are also
technical areas and rehearsal rooms that are equipped for public
autonomy, but with respect for Stynen
The proportions of the high building in the new wing refer to
the building that Léon Stynen designed for the two large halls and
the Conservatory library. Stéphane Beel designed a volume of
comparable proportions and laid it on its side, calling it a
The new high building is perfectly aligned with the building that
Léon Stynen designed for the two large halls and the Conservatory
library. By placing blocks of comparable volume on the same axes,
this complex of buildings, despite its diversity, still comes
across as a coherent whole.
EXTERNAL CLADDING IN WOOD!
The choice of larch planking to clad the outside of the building
is quite striking and by no means self-evident. In addition to a
number of technical advantages, the decisive factor in this choice
was its appearance. The wooden facades give the new building a
distinctive look amidst the other large buildings on the city's
main roads. This architecture - like a barn, rough, contrary and
perhaps slightly out of place - proclaims its programme loud and
clear: this is a workplace where art is created and shared. The
facades will become weathered so that in time various shades from
grey to white will subtly alternate.
Sound insulation played an important part in the design. The
persistence of vibrations was one of the main reasons for building
horizontally rather than vertically. The high and low buildings are
structurally entirely independent of each other, so that the
activities of deSingel and the Conservatory do not disturb one
another. The high building (Beel High) is a construction in its own
right, supported by pillars. The low building (Beel Low) was
inserted below it. The choice of materials was also informed by the
acoustics: carpet in the corridors, heavy, insulating materials,
and foundations that absorb and neutralise the vibrations from the
surrounding roads and railway line.
The scale of the project necessitated a fundamental look at
sustainability. The new building accommodates a complex and
extensive programme in a compact and economic manner. This is done
by means of high-quality spaces that can be used in several ways.
The main construction was devised so that it can be given a new
use. Among other things, the intention is that the café-restaurant
and the library and reading room will create extra opportunities
for the local area.
The new building primarily houses production areas. The offices,
utilities, rehearsal rooms and classrooms are designed for
intensive use and are made for wear. The interior therefore looks
more rudimentary than refined. The budget also imposed the choice
of economical finishing materials, which were chosen with an eye to
The workrooms for performers and students offer the opportunity to
give performances on various scales. Visitors therefore not only
have the extra comfort of tailormade settings, but also see
performances in the context in which they came into being. Showing
this framework adds value to the experience of the art.