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The history of the MoMu building

Front view of ModeNatie which is an impressive white building
Front view ModeNatie
Annik Geenen

Inspiration carved in stone: the MoMu building through the years

MoMu entrance hall: staircase and wood panelling walls
MoMu entrance hall
Sonja De Wolf

MoMu now and a sneak preview

Ceiling of the MoMu buildling: shadowplay
Ceiling of the MoMu building
Kristien Daem

The architecture of the museum today dates back to early 2000s when famous Ghent architect, Marie-José Van Hee, gave the building a new dynamic, and also a new public area for the city, after a radical renovation.

The image shows a render of how the entrance hall will look like. Upon entering, the staircase will be on the left and right in front will be the cash register.
Render entrance hall MoMu 2020
Render: Studio Dos Santos

This infrastructure is now being optimized, with great respect for the original signature of the predecessors, by B-Architects. Good to know: the spaciousness of the infamous MoMu entrance hall, the atrium and its massive sculptural wooden staircase will be preserved. However, 800m² of extra public viewing space will be added and includes a large multi-adaptable space and an exhibition space for the permanent collection that will focus on Belgian fashion. As a result, 3 different fashion stories can be exhibited at the same time in a total space of 2,000 m².

Scenography image of Olivier Theyskens exhibition with 7 silhouettes
Scenography Olivier Theyskens
MoMu Antwerp | Stany Dederen

Creativity and inspiration live in every corner of the building: the renowned Fashion Department of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the non-profit organization Flanders DC will also move to a temporary location until the end of the renovation. Another eye-catcher in the building, bookshop Copyright, will remain unchanged. The successful exhibition ‘Olivier Theyskens – She walks in beauty’ was also the last show in the building before it closed its doors.


Binnenkoer van MoMu met 13 modellen gekleed in kleurrijke en sobere jurken van Patrick Van Ommeslaeghe
Opening of MoMu in 2002 with work by Patrick Van Ommeslaeghe

On 21 September, one year after the Antwerp Fashion Year 2001, the then new MoMu opened. A large festival and gala pulled in an international crowd, and on MoMu's terrace there was a striking and regal retrospective show with work by Patrick Van Ommeslaeghe, a former student of the Academy. The Antwerp Fashion Department had already moved into the new building during the summer holidays so it could start the 2002-2003 academic year in brand new surroundings.

2001 – May 2001

The Modenatie building covered in a yellow veil
Color blocks during MODE 2001 Landed Geland
Wim Wauman

On the morning of 17 May 2001, Antwerp awoke to the sight of a fluorescent yellow façade from ModeNatie. This was the highlight of the fashion event ‘MODE 2001 LANDED GELAND’, organised under the watchful creative eye of Belgian fashion icon Walter Van Beirendonck. In the following four months, coloured fields and flowerbeds appeared across the whole city to promote the event. B-architecten were tasked with perfectly integrating these bright spots into the urban landscape. In December, Copyright Bookshop became the first to open its doors in the new building.

1997 - 2000

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At the end of 1997, the building was assigned by the City of Antwerp to the Flanders Fashion Institute. As a result, the concept of the FFI, to establish a new international fashion centre, finally took shape. From 1998, the building was regularly used to host events and exhibitions organised by the FFI, including Vitrine and Mode Voor Van Dyck (during Antwerp's Van Dyck Year, 1999).

In 1999, Ghent architect Marie-José Van Hee was asked to take on ModeNatie's renovation works. During the Vitrine event in 2000, large banners with designs by various Antwerp designers were hung up. In the same year, the ground floor of the building was used by students from the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten) to present their graduate designs. The official starting pistol for the renovation of ModeNatie was sounded in August 2000.

1965 – 1990

Old posters when the MoMu building was occupied for sheltered workshops
From 1965 the building was occupied for sheltered workshops

In the mid-1960s, EBES (formerly ‘De Schelde’) sold the building to the City of Antwerp. The workplaces and offices of the Beschutte Werkplaats, a social institute set up by the City of Antwerp, moved to the building.


Left: Antwerp Electricy Company, 1919 - 1960. Right: MoMu exhibition area during renovation, 2001
Left: Photo Archive Elektrabel. Right: Kristien Daem

The men's fashion store ‘New England’ was completely taken over by the offices of an association for disabled veterans, and an exchange office. The gas and electricity company Compagnie de l’Eléctricité de l’Escaut (De Schelde) also rented offices. The building housed the company's administrative services and the showroom for electrical appliances. At the time, the residents of Antwerp named the building ‘Den Ellentrik’. In 1950, the offices of the radio distribution business IMEA moved to the building.


Left: Hotel Central 1894 - 1908. Right: MoMu exhibition area during renovation, 2001
Left: Archive Frans Lauwers. Right: Bieke Claessens

During this period, Compagnie Générale Coöpérative Charbonnière and 28 other businesses set up around and above the ‘New England’ fashion store. In 1910, the building was finally expanded. Due to a lack of guests, the rooms of ‘Hotel Central’ were converted in 1908 so that they could serve as offices for the Compagnie Générale Coöpérative Charbonnière, a business that traded coal, cement and briquettes.

1894 – 1908

Old image of MoMu in 1894 when it was Hotel Central
Hotel Central, 1894 - 1908
Archive Frans Lauwers

The shop owner Pierre Einmahl moved his fashion business from the Meir to the new building on Nationalestraat. On the ground floor he opened a shop called ‘New England’, where he sold prêt-à-porter clothing for men and children. A certain A. Bardelli opened a luxury hotel, ‘Hotel Central’, in the building.


Alphonse Van de Put bought a piece of land from Hubert Pierquin that had been freed up with the expansion of Boeksteeg. He wanted to make a big building complex to rent out. The plans were drawn up by the architect Ernest Dieltiens, who was also responsible for building St Norbertus Church in Antwerp. Dieltiens was not only an architect, but also gave lessons at Antwerp's Royal Academy for Fine Arts.

1876 – 1884

Old image of the MoMu building in 1902 as Hotel Central
MoMu Nationalestraat
Archive MoMu Library

Op 31 October, the City of Antwerp commissioned Parisian builder Hubert Pierquin to start drastic demolition works in Boeksteeg. This resulted in a Parisian-inspired boulevard, approximately 15 metres wide and 700 m long, stretching from Ijzerenwaag to Groenplaats. This was how Nationalestraat was created. The aim of the street was to connect Groenplaats with a whole new neighbourhood in the south of the city, Het Zuid, a Parisian-style neighbourhood with wide streets and townhouses. In 1884, all that remained of the small Ijzerenwaag square was the statue of Belgian poet Theodoor Van Rijswijck.

19th Century

In the 19th century, Nationalestraat was still called Boeksteeg, and Drukkerijstraat was known as Voddenstraat. Boeksteeg, one of the longest streets in Antwerp, ran from the Ijzerenwaag to Kronenburgstraat, behind which was a network of lanes and alleys. There is still one tavern (in the current Nationalestraat) that bears the old street name, reminding us of a bygone era.