An architectural pearl in Antwerp
In 1924, the province of Antwerp began looking for a design for a new provincial institute for hygiene. They arranged a competition, with Victor Horta sitting in as foreperson of the jury. The main prize went to the young, unknown architects, Marcel Spittael and Paul Le Bon: they were given the opportunity to bring their art-deco design to life.
Construction began on 7 August 1925, but proceeded very slowly due to the economic crisis. It was only in 1933 that the Institute for Tropical Medicine was able to move into their new home.
The floorplan includes three symmetrically arranged buildings: the research department, the hospital and the general services building. The finishing embraced the art-deco style, with freestone and yellow brickwork. Oriel windows and expressive layers ensured relief and rhythm.
Between 1979 and 1985, the central wing was completely rebuilt. A fourth storey was added: the current library.
The building and the garden have been protected monuments since 1933.
Back in time
In the front building on the Nationalestraat, you’ll see the original interior: wainscoting in diverse woods, marble stairs and imposing wall paintings by Africanist Allard L’Olivier. The atmosphere is enhanced by images of people, landscapes and scenes of Central Africa from the beginning of the previous century.
The hall exemplifies the typical art deco style: high ceilings, broad staircases of black and grey marble, and soberly decorated white copper balustrades.
A monumental sculpture by Arthur Dupagne stands out on the ground floor. It shows an exhausted worker at the feet of a triumphant colonist. It honours the 1,800 African and Chinese workers and 132 Europeans who lost their lives in the construction of the Matadi–Leopoldstad railway in 1898.
The interior of the Bibliotheca Brodeniana is also beautifully preserved. This meeting room was formerly the library, named after the first director of the school, Professor Broden. The ITM has the J.M. Strebelle tapestry and the plastic works by M. de Witte on loan from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren.
A unique stretch of greenery
The originality is not limited to the buildings. The gardens surrounding them are also truly unique. In Belgium, a sunken garden of this sort is only to be found in Brussels. It focuses more on the design than on the vegetation. There is beautiful interplay between paths and hedges around ponds and fountains.
The garden also houses the precursor of the air conditioner that formerly maintained the humidity in the building. A large fan sucked in air through the decorative grill behind the waterfall, blowing it through the air vents.
Between the buildings, you’ll find a geometrical pond, bluestone terrace tiling and symmetrical flower beds.
In 2002, we renovated this garden following the original designs. These works were supported by the Flemish Ministry for Monuments and Landscapes, as well as by private patronage.