Royal Museum of the Fine Arts Antwerp

State-of-the-art climate technology to protect world famous paintings

The Challenge

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium houses paintings by some of the world's most famous artists, including Rubens, Titian, Van Dyke and Ensor. Originally opened in 1890, the museum was last renovated in the 1970s. However, while these renovations were functional, they were not considered aesthetically pleasing, and in 2008 the Flemish Government decided to renew the building to attract more visitors.

Protecting paintings against deterioration is extremely difficult in a building of this age and the decision to renovate was strengthened by the need for climate control to regulate temperature and humidity levels.

The solution

Claus en Kaan Architects of Rotterdam designed the renovations which combine the older 19th Century building with a very modern gallery. Previously an inside garden area, this new space will host touring exhibitions when the museum reopens in 2017.

Claus en Kaan selected Royal HaskoningDHV to create the engineering plans to bring their designs to life.

Pioneering climate control technology

Alex Ockhuysen, Project Manager for Royal HaskoningDHV outlines the work involved: "We carried out a series of studies relating to the climate control required to preserve the museum's paintings. To reduce the building’s overall energy consumption we invented (and patented) a brand new method for climate control. This involves air conditioning only the environment immediately surrounding a painting itself."


Called the 'Object Conservation System', this sustainable and environmentally positive option involves creating a 'curtain' of perfectly conditioned cool air that runs down the front and back of each painting.

Alex explains: "This preserves its integrity. The technique also means that expensive air conditioning will not be required in areas where no paintings are on display. The system will be used in the original part of the building. In the new exhibition space a constant room climate will be provided throughout, so art can be exhibited in the centre of the exhibition rooms."

Because of the way the new exhibition centre is constructed, insulation in this section of the museum will be significantly superior to that of the original building. The new exhibition space features a special roof that only allows indirect sunlight to penetrate. This will protect artwork from direct sunlight and means energy and heat loss will be very low, so the climate will remain constant.

Removing remnants of a bygone era

Alex continues: "To renovate the new space we had to remove a cold war atom bunker located just below surface level at the centre of the building."

With walls up to 1.5 metres thick, the bunker was originally built to protect and store the Museum's priceless pieces in the event of a nuclear war.

"We removed the nuclear bunker and renovated the original 19th Century bunker using special climate control and safety insulation to provide maximum fire safety and security. Now the bunker is complete, paintings can be stored safely while work to the rest of the museum begins."

The removal of asbestos is underway in advance of the construction phase which is due to commence at the end of 2014. This phase is expected to take two and a half years to complete. It is anticipated that works will finish either before the end of 2016 or by the beginning of 2017.

"We are tremendously pleased with the Royal HaskoningDHV team and the way they collaborated with us at every stage of the decision-making process. The innovative solutions the team provided means the Royal Museum of Fine Arts can continue its ongoing exchange programmes with museums from all over the world, making the finest, most precious artwork available for visitors to enjoy for generations to come. Royal HaskoningDHV's extensive experience made them the obvious choice for this project and we would definitely work with them again."

Dikkie Kaan-Scipio, architect and partner at Claus en Kaan said: "We are tremendously pleased with the Royal HaskoningDHV team and the way they collaborated with us at every stage of the decision-making process. The innovative solutions the team provided means the Royal Museum of Fine Arts can continue its ongoing exchange programmes with museums from all over the world, making the finest, most precious artwork available for visitors to enjoy for generations to come. Royal HaskoningDHV's extensive experience made them the obvious choice for this project and we would definitely work with them again."

Key facts

Preserving precious artwork for generations to come using pioneering climate control technology - 'Object Conservation System'
  • This is the first time this technology has been used in this way in an art gallery.
  • Galleries across the world are already showing an interest in adopting the 'Object Conservation System' technology.
  • This project demonstrates another innovative way of achieving a client's complex aims, while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprint.