When Royal HaskoningDHV was contracted to work on the extension and renovation of a major art museum in Belgium, our Structural Design team identified solutions which added value and led to significant savings across the project as a whole.

The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp is home to priceless paintings by artists such as Rubens, Titian, Van Dyck and Ensor. The building dates from the 19th century and needed renovating to increase protection for the pictures and provide a more pleasurable experience for visitors. The plan also included an extension across four open patios which have been enclosed and connected via a series of bridges.

First phase ensures safe, lower-cost storage for artworks

One of the challenges for the museum was the safety and storage of paintings during the work. Many of the pictures are very large and their removal and transportation presented some difficulties. However, the museum had its own art storage depot, also dating from the 19th century. Our design team recommended the project was approached in two phases. In the first phase, a new art depot would be created inside the old one, equipped with state-of-the-art climate control features, so the depot could then be used as a storage space. This solution added real value through savings from transport and off-site storage for the artworks.

Nuclear bunker demolished using method which avoids vibrations

The restoration of the art depot itself was complicated. This was because inside the depot was a relic from the Cold War - a steel-reinforced concrete bunker. This had been added during the 1950s for protection in the event of a nuclear bomb. With one-metre-thick walls, demolition required a method which presented no risk of damage to the building or the pictures above. Detonation would have created significant vibration so a controlled explosion was not suitable. Working together with the contractor, we identified an alternative that presented no risk to the historic surroundings.

Close analysis of roof glazing indicates renovation rather than replacement

With phase one complete, the restoration work could proceed. This included upgrading the glass in the ceilings to stabilise the internal climate and assist maintenance. Once it was possible to access the roof space, we calculated that existing structures were able to support the new glass loads in the majority of cases. It meant some 90% of the supports could be retained or renovated and just a very small proportion needed renewing. This not only provided considerable cost saving against the original plan but also enabled the roof to remain closed, so no additional protection was needed.

The new areas that have been built into the patios provide light, modern open spaces for visitors to enjoy. We planned the execution of these new spaces with care in view of the confined working spaces in the original building.