A Wealth of Art and Nature
Less than an hour drive from Antwerp, you reach a small and peaceful town, Wijnegem, where Kanaal is located on the banks of the Albert canal. Kanaal is a cultural, artistic, commercial and residential complex designed by one of the world’s most respected tastemakers, Axel Vervoordt.
The project, which also houses the headquarters for the Axel Vervoordt Company, is the realization of the Belgian designer’s vision to create a diverse living space surrounded by nature. This place represents a major milestone in the life of Axel, whose signature style is captivatingly simple and rustic yet refined and sophisticated. His interiors are infused with a serene sense of history and timelessness.
Kanaal is a large brick-and-mortar industrial complex built in 1857 as a malting distillery. The Axel Vervoordt Company aquired the site in 1998 and began occupying the warehouse-like spaces from 1999. The site was just completed in November last year.
“The main inspiration was the existing architecture of the historical industrial site itself,” said Axel in his interview with Architectural Digest. “We wanted to preserve as much as possible of the original character of the site by accentuating and reviving the industrial heritage and balancing it with contemporary renovations. The link between the buildings is the green, natural landscape design.”
From the start, Axel had the vision to create an authentic cultural and residential island amidst a wealth of art and nature. The plan was built around the installation artwork by Indian artist Anish Kapoor ‘At the Edge of the World’, which is an enormous dome covered in several layers of pure red pigment. The dome dominates the whole room and leaves visitors with a dazzling feeling of space and a glimpse of infinity. It has been installed there since 2000 and can be considered as the beating heart of the site.
The project started in 2011 as a division of Vervoordt r.e., the real estate development company directed by Axel’s son, Dick Vervoordt. The 55,000-square-meter complex has been carefully conceived and designed by Vervoordt r.e., in collaboration with leading Belgian architects Stéphane Beel, Coussée & Goris and Bogdan & Van Broeck, and the French landscape designer Michel Desvigne. The additional exhibition space has been designed by Axel himself and Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki based on wabi-sabi principles.
Over the past decade the industrial buildings have been restored and converted for contemporary use, with a number of new buildings alongside. The project includes 98 apartments, 30 offices and workshops, and an artisanal bakery by the famous French bakery ‘Poilâne’, an organic fresh market CRU by the Colruyt Group and a restaurant, giving the ambience of a productive, dynamic and enchanting space.
A series of art exhibition spaces is the heart of the project, covering over 4000 square meters. A light installation by James Turrell, ‘Red Shift’, housed permanently in an original 19th century chapel, is a must-see. It is one of a series of ‘aperture’ or ‘space division’ works created in 1995 that rely on a viewing space and a sensing space. The artwork involves explorations in light and space that speak to viewers without words, impacting the eyes, body and mind with the force of a spiritual awakening.
The exhibition spaces are also designed to present temporary exhibitions of the collections of the Axel Vervoordt Gallery and the Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2008 with the principles to hold up art as a mirror to ourselves, for finding new ways forward with the world. Both permanent and temporary exhibitions are installed to respect the past and offers the visitors a unique walk in style, allowing each artistic experience to breathe.
A French quote ‘Etre heureux en rendant heureux’ or ‘Finding happiness through creating happiness’ is not only Axel’s most favourite one but it does also express his willingness to inspire artists and visitors through discovering and transmitting the beauty with a deep respect for everything that is authentic.