Hidden autonomous entity

After winning the international competition in 2003, the Dutch architectural firm KAAN Architecten worked intensively on the master plan, renovation, and expansion of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. Hidden in the old place of the inner gardens, invisible from the street, now stands a 21st-century autonomous entity in which pivot doors form an essential part of the unspoken material identity of the building.

Photography by Sebastian van Damme and Stijn Bollaert


Hidden behind history

In parallel with the museum's renovation, significant public investments have been made since the beginning of the 21st century and have transformed the neighborhood. One of the cornerstones of KAAN Architecten's design was the decision to completely conceal the new part of the museum within the existing building. The renovation is invisible from the street to emphasize the strength of the original structure and its role as a heritage site within the rapidly changing neighborhood.

The museum, better known as KMSKA, unites a contemporary allure with the glorious but somewhat neglected beauty of the original 19th-century building. KMSKA is one of the last examples of the robust neoclassical architecture of Antwerp, so hiding the new part of the museum also has great value for the city's appearance.

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Emblematic contrast

The extension coexists with the powerful historical structure without denying its monumental character. Prof. Dr. Dikkie Scipio, architect and co-founder of KAAN Architecten, about the design:

"The 19th and 21st-century museums couldn't be more intensely different from each other. Together they embody an emblematic contrast in dimensions, light, and atmosphere, designed as flexible spaces for future exhibitions."


Uninterrupted worlds

KMSKA is now divided into three worlds: the public entrance area (feel), the exhibition areas (see), and the offices at the rear of the building (work). Via the monumental staircase, the entrance, the reception hall, and the Keyserzaal, visitors are guided either to the renovated 19th-century museum or the new 21st-century museum.

The new museum is situated as an autonomous entity in the four existing patios. The all-white exhibition rooms receive their daylight from 198 triangular, three-dimensional skylights, supplemented by four large light traps for natural light deep into the building, 23 meters below the roof. These skylights with integrated artificial lighting soften the daylight and compensate for the lack of seasonal light. The high-gloss floors also contribute to the deliberately breathtaking experience of the new museum.

The succession of strongly vertically oriented spaces without distinct material identity is not interrupted by frames, hinges, or sills. Twenty-five pivot doors can be found throughout the museum – each more hidden than the other. When closed, the pivot doors completely disappear into the spaces. Only a narrow seam is visible around such a frameless pivot door.

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Pivot doors in KMSKA

The choice for pivot doors was an obvious one for various reasons. Walter Hoogwerf, KAAN Architecten:

"Pivot doors offer the possibility not only to make invisible doors but also to make doors of enormous dimensions. At certain compartment divisions in the KMSKA where we did not want to interrupt the route by a facade, we opted for pivot doors because we could conceal them inconspicuously in the wall. There are then no visible hinges, and there is only a small joint all around. They close in the event of a fire alarm. We chose FritsJurgens hinges because they can be built-in with limited installation height, and the functionality is high."

Discover FritsJurgens’ pivot hinges

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Pivoting diversity

Walter Hoogwerf: "Where we have given the monument historical colors applied in traditional art, oak parquet and door frames, and ornamental plasterwork, the Vertical Museum consists of abstraction, white and midnight blue colors, invisible doors, and super sleek details."

Several carefully considered interventions have been made in the existing building to realize the new museum's necessary space and technical facilities. One of these additions is the pivoting wall of 5,5 by 9 meters on the first floor, which has considerably improved the logistics surrounding large works of art.

There is a large variety of pivot doors used, says Walter Hoogwerf. "There are a total of about 25 pivot doors. There are also some monumental doors that pivot. There are elevator doors of 2 x 3,6 m, 2,5 x 3 m, doors of 1 x 3 m, thick, thin. The doors are mainly made of GRG, fiberglass reinforced gypsum."

Overwhelming experience

It is invisible from the street, but once inside an overwhelming museum in all its apparent simplicity – the new, 21st century part of KMSKA is an autonomous entity with a breathtaking experience. It is precisely the unspoken material identity that offers experience, a symbolic contrast in dimensions, light, and atmosphere compared to the 19th-century museum.

For more information, visit the website of KMSKA.