The city of Antwerp is counting down to 17 May, when a major new museum is to open, the MAS, the 'Museum aan de Stroom' or 'Museum on the River'.
Housing a permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions the museum is bound to attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the city each and every year. From May 2011 onwards the MAS will feature among the main sights on every visitor's list of places to see in the port city.
Plans for a special museum focusing on Antwerp's place in the world have been around for some time. In 1999 the city authorities gave the go-ahead for the construction of a new museum on an area called het Eilandje or the 'Little Island' in the Antwerp docklands. The following year the winning design was announced, but it took until last year for the ground-breaking building to be completed.
The museum building designed by architects Neutelings and Riedijk is an attraction in its own right. Symbolically, it is located on the waterfront between the old and new ports. The museum provides a new home for three existing museums that were urgently in need of new premises. It only opens in May, but even before the official opening you can get a sneak preview of what the MAS will have to offer by visiting the MAS Information Point at the site.
Antwerp and the World
The MAS provides a new home for a number of important Antwerp museums, whose buildings have become antiquated: the National Shipping Museum, the Ethnographic Museum and the Folklore Museum.
Antwerp is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in Flanders. For centuries the River Schelde has played a crucial role in generating the city's wealth. The Schelde or Scheldt has made Antwerp what it is today. It has been a gateway into the city both for goods and people, but it has also allowed Antwerp to project itself abroad. The museum aims to tell the story of Antwerp's relationship with the world. For centuries, people, goods and cultures have been sailing into Antwerp up the River Scheldt. The MAS shows how these contacts have enriched the city of Antwerp and sheds light on the role that Antwerp has played in the wider world.
Antwerp's relationship with the rest of the world is illustrated using four different themes that each get a floor of the museum devoted to them: Demonstration of Power, Metropolis, the International Port and Life and Death.
A new architectural landmark
In addition to being a museum, the MAS is also an extraordinary building located in an extraordinary location. The building was designed by Dutch architects Neutelings and Riedijk that are specialised in creating buildings that have a public use. Their works include the Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam.
The new MAS building towers above its area and conjures up the image of the 16th century storehouses that once lined the waterfront in the port. The museum is designed as a giant storehouse with stacked containers or "boxes". The boxes are stacked in such a way that they create a spiral tower.
The red towers of the MAS are covered with hand-cut Indian stone and immediately catch the eye. There are also curved glass panels that are at least six meters high.
The museum is located in a very symbolic place, between the Bonaparte dock and the Willem dock and the old and new ports of Antwerp. It is also situated on a square, the Hanzestedenplaats. Visitors approaching the museum will cross a mosaic by Luc Tuymans, one of Antwerp's greatest living artists.
Get a sneak preview
The MAS opens on 17 May, but by visiting the MAS Information Point you can already get a good idea of what the museum will have in store. Here you can see a full scale model and learn what kind of experiences the MAS will be able to offer the visitor. When it opens the MAS will highlight Antwerp's relations with the rest of the world. In the Information Point you get a sneak preview focusing on Antwerp's ties with China.
The Information Point can be found at the foot of the MAS and is open Wednesday from 10 AM to 4:30 PM, Saturday from 1 PM to 4:30 PM and Sunday from 1 PM to 4:30 PM. It closes on 6 April.