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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 and culture.

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 Stynen.

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 deSingel.

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.
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The site during Phase 1 (photo from Antwerp Province Architecture Archives)

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 garden.

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 building.

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.

Architects

Léon Stynen 1899-1990
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Site meeting / works meeting

  • 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 Antwerp Academy.
  • He was an outspoken advocate of Modernism, which throughout his long career was a source of positive inspiration for a great many varied projects.
  • 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 Blankenberge.
  • He was a friend and admirer of Le Corbusier, to whom the refined brutalism of the Conservatory building is obviously a tribute.
  • deSingel held and exhibition on Léon Stynen in 1990.

Stéphane Beel 1955

  • 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 1999.

The relationship with the surroundings: four towers

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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 Wezenberg.

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 self-effacing.

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 High').

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 performances.

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 horizontal tower.

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.

Focus design

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.

ACOUSTICS
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.

SUSTAINABILITY
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.

INTERIOR
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 acoustics.

USE
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.