Designing the Absent - Design a New Tower for the cathedral of Antwerp
Antwerp, Belgium

Competition Prospectus
The cathedral of Antwerp remains unfinished. When they started building it in the 14th century they didn't take the future in account and soon ran out of finances. They made the building functional but lost one tower.  This absence creates a blank canvas for today. By generating ideas for a new tower, we can put a focus on the cathedral itself. The given fact of an absent element within an existing structure functions as a great generator for ideas.  By playing with the idea of the absence, we generate a focus.  Keeping this in mind, every participant comes up with an idea for the unfinished tower.

Cathedral History
The Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp reconciles ‘being’ with ‘becoming’. For five centuries, its north tower, which points toward God like a finger, has dominated the silhouette of the city without changing. But during that same period, the Cathedral was repaired and refurnished repeatedly. It assembles the various styles of the times - gothic, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and so on - without ever taking on a definitive form.

In 1352, construction was begun on a new Our Lady’s church which would become the largest Gothic church in the Netherlands. In the beginning, it was to be provided with two towers of equal height. In 1521, after nearly 170 years, the new church of Our Lady was ready. The south tower reached only as far as the third string course.  During the night of October 5-6, 1533, the new church was largely gutted by fire. The completion of the second tower was therefore delayed, which led to its ultimate postponement. During the Iconoclasm of August 20, 1566 (at the start of the Eighty Years' War), Protestants destroyed a large part of the cathedral interior. Later, when Antwerp came under Protestant administration in 1581, a number of artistic treasures were once again destroyed, removed or sold. The restoration of Roman Catholic authority came in 1585 with the fall of Antwerp.  In 1794 the French revolutionaries that conquered the region plundered Our Lady’s Cathedral and inflicted serious damage. Around 1798, the French administration intended to demolish the building but after each blow, the cathedral was able to recover. Over the course of the 19th century, the church was completely restored and refurnished.

Design Response
The cathedral of Antwerp has a turbulent past, fraught with destruction, devastation and desecration that began with a fire in 1533, and ultimately, permanently postponed the completion of the second tower.  The design for the second tower references the original design intentions, acknowledges the idea of its absence and celebrates the cathedral's ability to survive its turbulent past.  The new tower serves as an icon of its adjacent sister.  The outer skin is clad in etched glass echoing the form and detailing of the original cathedral.  Its translucency becomes a ghost of what could have been, a formal mirage that is never quite there.  Through the ethereal translucence, the wrapping and warping metal “flames” are experienced by onlookers.  These spiraling elements become an abstract interpretation of the the causes that led to the demise of the second tower.  Contained within a steel cage, but bursting through the towers top, these multicolored elements also serve to celebrate the magnificence of the cathedral by bringing a dynamic viewing opportunity as powerful as the history of the cathedral itself.  The new tower would be lit with continually changing LED lighting from within, adding to the dynamical nature of the structure.  In the end the new tower is meant to become a piece of art that evokes memory, emotion, and reflection for its host, the cathedral of Antwerp.




Jason Williams - Concept Design