Shelter for workmen
Van Asperen & Van Mechelen
Antwerp, Londenstraat 52
1908 / 2000 – 2004
Between the MAS and Park Spoor Noord and all the new towers, there is a cute little building. Above the entrance is a placard with the words “Shelter for workers put under their protection”. It was founded in 1908 by the city council as a shelter for the workers of the port.
The architects were J. Van Asperen and Alexis Van Mechelen, then city architects. Another work by architect Van Mechelen close by is the old fire station. Indeed the building that now functions as the new Port House. While the fire station was built in neo-Renaissance style, this is a combination of different styles. It is called ecclectic in architectural jargon. But personally I think it has some cool Art Nouveau details.
In the 19th century, Antwerp dockers had a hard life: long working hours in the open air. Eating lunch was not an easy task, there was hardly any shelter and people could not eat in a dry place. In 1853, Mayor Loos took the initiative to provide soup and tea for the workers. 98,000 liters of soup were distributed to the Bonaparte dock in 107 days.
In addition, soup kitchens were added. Here port workers could heat themselves and eat cheaply. Until shortly before WWI, the workers were also recruited and paid here. The original sentences that adorned the walls were added to the interior. All to motivate the workers. There is now only one soup kitchen in the port of Antwerp: soup kitchen 110 near Metropolis.
The building currently has a different function. It had known years of vacancy and a period as a disco until it was finally restored in 2000 and refurbished as a banquet hall and restaurant. The restoration lasted two years and several missing details were reconstructed: the mosaic floor was cut down again in marble and some flower shapes from the ceiling were re-cast.
Shelter for workmen
This article first appeared on my other site about architecture in and around Antwerp: archiplore.
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