an innovative creative arts venue in the heart of antwerp, designcenter de winkelhaak offers a vibrant co-working environment for architects, freelance designers and creative start-ups, alongside an original design shop, exhibition and events space, and bustling café serving what it calls ‘the best coffee in the whole of antwerp.’
at the end of the 20th century, the area around lange winkelhaakstraat, near the central train station in antwerp, was known as a centre for drugs and prostitution.
in a bid to tackle these urban troubles, the city government devised a plan for a new neighbourhood arts centre that would inspire a newfound confidence in the area and help bring about regeneration.
in may 2000, a group of derelict houses were demolished to create space for the new arts center, which opened in September 2001. this new building had a pure and clear structure – functional and transparent – with special attention given to the use of durable materials, internal flexibility of space and environmentally friendly systems.
the fabric of the building is a combination of permanence and flexibility: the concrete finish creates a unified feel, while the internal spaces are open-plan and adapt easily to different requirements. this was a primary design element in the center’s development, seeking to help enhance the interaction of the designers within the building and offer an ever-changing view to those in the surrounding area as the façade displays a continually changing showcase of residents’ work.
the central areas of the building are communal spaces in which cross-pollination of disciplines and ideas can occur, another concept that was fundamental to the design of the building at its inception; enabling different disciplines to share ideas and opportunities to facilitate their growth and, hopefully, success.
‘belgian essentials’ to us, are designs that reflect who we are, with a high level of surrealism or a dry sense of humor. products cherished by craftsmanship, icons that remain. each design shows exactly the right amount of common sense and originality, and surpasses similar products in terms of quality.
belgian essentials gallery
the on-site design shop, belgian essentials gallery (beg), is stocked exclusively with practical and authentic “belgian essentials” by designers such as piet stockmans, nedda el-asmar, margot thyssen, sofie lachaert, linde hermans and antoine van loocke.
i particularly liked the breakfast set by margot thyssen, whose designs constantly strive to obtain purity and harmony between detail and simplicity. her work is characterised by her use of the ‘multilayer sludge casting technique’ to ensure the transparency of her porcelain is accentuated. during this process the middle layer is ‘trapped’ between the two outer layers, with the inner layer becoming visible and giving the piece a gently translucent effect.
de winkelhaak operates as a creative incubator, providing both administrative and promotional support to their resident designers, who are expected to move on to other local premises as soon as their businesses become sufficiently viable, in order to make way for new emerging talent and keep the creative bandwagon moving along.
the exhibition space on the lower ground floor provides the perfect space for these designers to showcase their cutting-edge designs and state-of-the-art craftsmanship to investors and buyers, and is also frequently rented out for conferences, workshop sessions and networking events to further facilitate opportunities for growth.
in the long term designcenter de winkelhaak hope to attract more design retailers and businesses to the area, and so establish the neighbourhood around de winkelhaak as the design district of antwerp.
i look forward to returning again soon to see the ongoing development!
⇒ designcenter de winkelhaak, lange winkelhaakstraat 26, 2060 antwerp, belgium
the function+form bloggers design tour to antwerp was organised in collaboration with pentacom pr, city of antwerp and the design centre winkelhaak. check out the hashtags on social for more: #bloggerstourantwerp #wearefunctionandform.