Several years ago, part of the buildings of ‘De Dames’ (The Ladies) – the legendary former girls’ school on the Meir – was demolished. The old school buildings made room for a residential project. Along with the listed buildings on the site, the characteristic basement kitchenette – clad in historic Delft tiles – was also preserved. The conservation and restoration files were prepared by Patine Architecten from Antwerp on behalf of the Van Wellen Group. Conservation-restoration students from UAntwerp restored the 1,600 tiles over the past few years.
A patchwork of tiles
‘Tile rooms like this are few and far between in Antwerp’, lecturer Stefanie Bauvois (UAntwerp) explains. ‘That’s why the architect decided to restore the room. There are very old tiles in those rooms from the 18th century, but also tiles from the 21st. If a tile fell out, you could find a new one at the flea market.’
Rani De Vos, a former conservation and restoration student, volunteered to work on the project. ‘We worked SO hard on it. Usually you are allowed to restore about three tiles, here there were 1,600. We are never going to find such a project again in our careers.’
Unique study programme
The conservation and restoration study programme in Antwerp is the only Dutch-language and the only university programme of this calibre in Belgium. ‘We put a very conscious effort into those craft techniques, with lots of practicals classes’, Bauvois says. ‘Another unique feature of our study programme is that students can work for the museums of Antwerp City Council, on real museum pieces. Those are always unique cases.’