Day 228/365 of Steel – Jan Vanhoenacker

The first steel skyscraper in Europe.

Jan Vanhoenacker (7 March 1875 – 22 November 1958) was a Belgian architect. Between 1920 and 1931, he ran an architectural firm together with Jos Smolderen and John Van Beurden. His name is forever linked to the Boerentoren in Antwerp.

KBC Bank Building in Antwerp
Fig 1: KBC Bank Building in Antwerp
Photo: Manfreeed

The Boerentoren

The Boerentoren is an Art Deco-style tower building completed in 1931 in the center of Antwerp. When completed in 1931, the 87.5-metre tower was the tallest in Europe. It was a revolutionary project; the first skyscraper in Europe, following the example of great predecessors in the United States.

The Steel Structure of the Boerentoren
Fig 2: The Steel Structure of the Boerentoren
Photo: © RV

Three architects were involved in the realisation of the tower building. Emiel Van Averbeke, chief architect of Antwerp, advised on behalf of the city. Jan Vanhoenacker was appointed master builder and he was assisted by Jos Smolderen, who was mainly responsible for the interior design and façade architecture.

Construction began in February 1929 with the excavation of the building pit and the laying of the foundations. On 25 October of the same year, construction of the steel support structure began.

Worker on site of the Boerentoren
Fig 3: Worker on site of the Boerentoren
Photo: Courtesy of CaixaForum Barcelona

The skeleton consisted of steel columns spaced 3.5 to 5m apart, and connected with girders. Construction of the steel skeleton was carried out by the Duisburg firm Demag and was completed in March 1930. The building was completed on 24 December 1931.

In late 2020, it became known that entrepreneur Fernand Huts’ Katoen Natie became the owner of the tower. The intention is to transform the tower into a cultural tower after a thorough renovation.

The building will have a multifunctional purpose with exhibition spaces, a sculpture garden and bookshop, as well as catering, housing, shops and offices. The top floor will be accessible to visitors to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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