When you walk through the Nieuw Zuid district in Antwerp, in a former wasteland a stone’s throw from the trendy Zuid district, next to the Scheldt, a complete new district has risen in – for Belgian standards – record time. It is a long way from the finishing line: approximately only one third has been realised until now and there are still other projects planned by architects like SANAA and Peter Zumthor. The last building of the site, surrounded by flashy high-rise apartments, is cut off by fences where the next step in the development takes place. ‘It is impressive how they are making a city from scratch,’ says David Van Severen. ‘On the master plan, you see long stripes that are literally being developed from right to left. It is very American, like frontiers constantly being moved.’

Surrounded by more corporate high-rises, the brand new Tim Van Laere Gallery stands out for its cool warehouse-look. On closer inspection, it exists of five different rooms in concrete that are following each other like an enfilade, yet the façade emphasises the small distance between each volume. Each block has a different length and height, which creates rhythm and translates the various functions of the programme. The left building, without any windows but the name Tim Van Laere spelled out in big letters, is the storage room. The second, higher building which consists of the entrance is called ‘the house’. It is also the only unit that has two floors with more office space and smaller showrooms, leading to a rooftop with an impressive view on the Scheldt. The next unit is the so-called ‘white cube’, where overwhelming sculptures and paintings are on view by Jonathan Meese, a German artist with a sense of Sturm und Drang (the 18th century German artistic movement where works were filled with rousing action and high emotionalism, and often dealt with an individual rebelling against the injustices of society) who clearly can use the space at his disposal. In that room, there is also a big painting by the Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie whose works can reach up to six digits and a big charcoal drawing by Rinus Van de Velde, the Belgian art market darling who also contributed to the gallery becoming a household name for the non-initiated. As his shows were such a success, the gallery that was formerly housed in a non-descriptive building in the Verlatstraat at Zuid often let to traffic jams and chaos, hence the need to move to bigger premises.

Following the white cube is a smaller, yet higher volume that is called ‘the chapel’. Though the room is multifunctional, just like most of the spaces, it now shows smaller works by Van de Velde, but could also be used to screen his first new film that will be presented later in the gallery. The final, smallest venue is the patio, showcasing two open-air sculptures by Meese who also presents a huge sculpture on the rooftop that is visible from street level. The last typology is also a reference to the patio in the previous building and an architectural translation of the importance of sculpture in Van Laere’s programme, besides wild gestural painting.

The outside concrete walls of the building look solid and have been cast on the spot. As the architects explain: ‘We have been thinking a long time about prefab. Luckily we haven’t done it, as the entire district is already prefab in a way. For this building, we wanted something more solid, more rooted. We cast it with multiplex wood, which gives the concrete a nice texture and warmth.’ The shutters also reinforce the sense of rhythm. When they are open, they are white. When closed, they have the same pink as in the sculptures and objects of Franz West (1947-2012), the iconic artist who was also represented by the gallery and was institutional in its international growth. The ‘Franz West pink’ also recurs in other elements inside the building, like the bookshelves.

With its 1000 square metres, while the building might look big for – Belgian – gallery standards and almost feel like a mini-museum, it is the smallest construction on the site. ‘We like this idea of scale,’ Van Severen says. ‘The building is surrounded by high-rise. The lowest buildings are six floors, the highest twenty-five. By gluing these five houses next to each other, the building has its own skyline and urbanity, which was lacking in this context.’ Instead of a gallery, the initial idea of the city planners was to have a pavilion with a public function next to a big square. ‘The city had, understandingly, its doubts about the public function of the gallery,’ Van Severen says. ‘But on the other hand: at the opening there were 7000 people! Some galleries attract more visitors than museums. I think it’s a very interesting discussion.’