District house Merksem
V. Gorlé & J. Frissen – J. Van Puyvelde
Antwerp, Merksem, Burgemeester J. Nolfplein 1
De Coene as movie set
Sometimes you discover gems in your neighborhood. The district house of Merksem was also involved in the preparations for the De Coene exhibition in Schoten earlier this year. Merksem is a neighboring municipality of Schoten and the district house is fully furnished by De Coene. It is an example of the post-war period of De Coene. I had to admit that I had never been here. I was allowed to take pictures here. If you want to admire the interior yourself, you can watch the film Largo Winch with Sharon Stone. The council chamber was used as a backdrop for the movie!
District House Merksem
The town hall of Merksem is destroyed at the end of WWII. A new building is needed, yet it took until 1949 for a final decision. An architecture competition is being organized. The competition rules explicitly state that the building had to be adapted to the built environment. Twenty architectural firms participate, the architect duo Victor Gorlé and J. Frissen won. The first stone was laid only in 1961 and on October 24, 1968, 23 years after the destruction of the old town hall, the new town hall was inaugurated. Groundwater was very high on this site, which has caused numerous problems. In 1983 Antwerp merged with a few peripheral municipalities and the building became the district house.
There was little enthusiasm for the new town hall. The modern design was too cold and empty for many. Yet with governments this style stood for faith in the future. With only two floors and a traditional gable roof, it takes the environment into account. The interior is completely modern, both in terms of spatiality and the internal organization.
Rooms around the courtyard
The building is built around a courtyard. The basis is a concrete frame with some load-bearing walls. On the ground floor the public part includes a police station, on the first floor there are representative rooms: lecture hall, wedding and council room. The wedding room is adjacent to the council room and can be used as a single room or separated by a 3,4m high curtain. There are two entrances to Burgemeester Jozef Nolfplein: one for administrative services and one for official affairs with a balcony.
Interior by De Coene
Interior architect Jan Van Puyvelde worked together with Kunstwerkstede De Coene. No native oak is used, but exotic rosewood and moulmein teak are used. The furniture in the representative spaces is entirely made of wood, elsewhere a metal base is chosen. De Coene had 6 months to implement the project.
The diamond heads in wood in the walls are very difficult to make. The wood is wet pressed onto the mold. There should not be any sharp edges and the seams were not allowed to tear through.
The furniture comes from the De Coene collection: the wedding sofas and sofas, but also the chairs. The latter are an adapted design of the Philips chair, made for the meeting rooms of the Philips factory in Eindhoven. They are known as an easy chair for long meetings. In Merksem, the Merksem emblem is placed in gold print, an idea of the interior architect to convince mayor and aldermen. The sofas and armchairs resemble the Barcelona chair, a design by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. This is no surprise, as De Coene produced this for the American Knoll International. The furniture still serves. Another nice detial that I found in an article from 1965: there were then 720 luminaires in the entire building.
District House Merksem
This article first appeared on my other site about architecture in and around Antwerp: archiplore.
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