Museum Hof Van Busleyden in Mechelen, Belgium: White Oak
Hof van Busleyden is one of the most beautiful buildings in Mechelen, a Flemish city located
between Brussels and Antwerp. With a delicate brickwork and sandstone facade, it was
built for Hieronymus van Busleyden, member of the Great Council of the Netherlands, a
prominent humanist and friend of both Erasmus and Thomas More. The building became a
city museum in 1938 after being badly damaged during World War I. In 2009, designs for a
renovation programme were approved with the intention to expand and modernise the
museum. The work for phase 1 of the project began in 2010 and was completed at the end
The first phase of the programme comprised of building a new underground extension 9
metres below the palace’s central courtyard. On entering the museum, visitors walk through
a large room featuring the museum’s reception desk. The room cleverly sets the tone of the
project; plain white walls and door frames contrast with some of the building’s original
features such as the brickwork on selected walls, the old floor beams in the ceilings and a
wooden herringbone floor.
As visitors move through to the next room, they get a first glimpse of the grand staircase
leading down to the museum’s underground extension. The architects, David Driesen from
dmvA architects and Hans Le Compte from HLCr architects, have created an effective
contrast between plain white walls and surfaces clad in American white oak to make this
monumental new staircase look delicate and elegant. “When the wall surfaces are
predominantly white, the wood elements become positive and vice-versa,” explained David
Driesen and Hans Le Compte. For example, the upper flight of stairs are painted in white
whereas the underside and the banisters on the outside are all fitted in oak panelling, giving
it a bold, modern style.
The second flight of stairs that leads visitors underground to the new extension is completely
fitted in American white oak including the floors and ceilings of the stair landing (-1 floor
level). The oak cladding creates a peaceful and warm environment. The central white metal
handrail is echoed by two further side white handrails which have been cut out inside the
wall panelling to keep the wood surfaces flush and uncluttered.
The oak woodwork around the staircase, steps and landings is 22mm thick strips of
American white oak. The joinery work was constructed with the utmost precision using CAD
drawings and CNC machinery so that the vertical strips of oak and the joints run seamlessly
from top to bottom at each level of the staircase. The oak had to be vacuum impregnated
first with a fire resistant finish to meet fire regulation requirements. The strips of quarter sawn
white oak have been very carefully fitted to look smooth and seamless with a natural wax
finish. On the stair landing (-1 floor level) a glazed lift shaft also provides access.
The signposting on each floor level has been gouged in the wood panelling and painted in
white. In addition, there are no skirting boards making the surfaces perfectly smooth and
seamless. A small gap has been left between the edge of the oak steps and the oak wall
cladding to enhance the volume of the staircase.
At the bottom of the staircase the visitor discovers a spacious underground hall with tall 6
metre high ceilings and a total surface area of 620 meters squared. The hall’s plain concrete walls and
floors contrast starkly with the oak panelled staircase. This vast exhibition area hides a
sophisticated HVAC and lighting system which rivals some of the most up to date museums.
The air extraction system has been hidden behind thick concrete walls to cause the least
noise disturbance whilst complying with stringent fire regulation requirements. The ceiling
lights are cleverly integrated into wave-shaped air extraction ducts which are discreet and
seamless. White lines on the concrete floor are a reference to the Renaissance when the
notions of perspective drawing were first discovered.
Phase 2 is now underway and includes the renovation of the existing building and creating a
new pedestrian circulation route through the former caretaker’s house. This second phase is
due to be completed in 2018