19th and 20th century timber warehouses in Antwerp

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This master thesis focuses on historic warehouses in Antwerp. Given the strong presence of this particular type of building in the urban fabric, the study investigates a selection of warehouses constructed out of timber in the 19th and 20th centuries. By doing so, this thesis complements previous and on-going investigations on warehouses and historic timber structures. Both subjects received relatively little attention in preceding research.

Getting insight into historic warehouses will hopefully raise awareness about industrial heritage and historic construction materials and techniques. Belgium, and in particular Antwerp as a harbour city, has a rich industrial heritage. However, these industrial sites are not always appreciated as such. Due to the lack of recognition, many warehouses are abandoned or dilapidated. Nevertheless, these buildings represent our industrial history and a lot can be learnt by studying them.
Timber, one of the first construction materials, was long used by man as the main structural material for building. However, in the studied period changes arose induced by the industrial revolution. Timber structures were built less due to the upcoming of iron and concrete. Studying historic timber structures is interesting in order to determine which techniques were used to provide the necessary bearing capacity and fire safety with a material that was considered as less performing. The combination of the two subjects gives the opportunity to study the evolution of the use of timber in warehouses’ load-bearing structures during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The main goal of the research is to establish an inventory of the existing timber warehouses and to make a detailed analysis of a chosen selection. The selection is based on whether a full timber structure is present. This approach allows analysing in depth the characteristics of this specific typology and its evolution.
From an initial extended inventory, consisting of all Antwerp warehouses with a mention of their load-bearing structure, this research puts forward historical and structural analyses of a selection of those warehouses. The main tools used to achieve the selection are inventories and historical research based on archival and literature studies, such as previous works on Antwerp’s warehouses. Using the same tools, the history of each building has been traced, leading to a timeline of the evolution of timber warehouses as well as the use of timber. This research also includes a study of the warehouses’ locations, functions and architecture. In addition to the historical research, on-site visits were performed, contributing to the study of the main structural elements. The following subjects are addressed: floors, columns and roof frames. Dimensions are analysed as well as bearing capacities, traces and marks. Additionally the current state of the warehouses is discussed, based on their current functions, adaptations, damages, etc.
The findings are linked to the evolution of the city of Antwerp and compared with other cities such as Brussels in order to find the uniformity or atypicality of the city. Based on these observations, a set of appropriate conclusions and recommendations concludes this thesis.
Date of AwardJan 2017
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorInge Bertels (Promotor) & Ine Wouters (Promotor)

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