Antwerp will restore the 16th century brewer’s house
Underground water tank in the Brouwershuis. Photo by AG Vesta. © Dries Luyten.
The city of Antwerp is restoring one of the last vestiges of its golden age – the Brouwershuis, a former water distribution center near the Scheldt that carried water to the city’s breweries before the start of industrialization.
During the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the Brouwershuis was Antwerp’s first water distribution center.
Built in 1553-1554 by Gilbert Van Schoonbeke, a Dutch entrepreneur deeply involved in the development of Antwerp (Van Schoonbeke is said to be responsible for the development of a third of the streets of XVIth century Antwerp), the Brouwershuis is almost completely intact.
Its horse mill, bucket wheel, and water tanks are unique, as is the interior of the council chamber used by the Brewers Guild.
The water from the Scheldt was channeled through a series of moats to the brewer’s pipe, the entrance to which is still under the Ankerruiplaats, and from there it went to the reservoir of the Brouwershuis cellar.
“The still intact horse mill drove the wheel that picked up the water in the cellar tank and dumped it on the upper floor into the outer tank,” according to AG Vespa, the autonomous municipal company for the projects real estate and urban in Antwerp.
From there, the water traveled along a system of wooden pipes to 16 different connected breweries.
“In 1562, the town became the owner of the ‘Waterhuys’ and from 1581 the brewer’s guild met in the building, which was then called the ‘Brouwershuis'”, explains AG Vespa.
The facility was partially modernized around 1856 with hydraulic pumps to increase the capacity of its foundry, and the Brouwershuis continued to serve as a water distribution center until 1930.
The Brouwershuis is considered a protected monument and, although it became a museum in 1993, it has been closed since 1999 due to its poor condition and the need for extensive restoration.
This restoration is to come: the building will be repaired inside and out, with restored stained-glass windows, ironwork and its blue and natural stone.
The floors will be restored and the attic will be insulated, and the roof will be reinforced and sanitized.
Accessibility will be improved in the large basement tank with a new steel staircase and the addition of a walking platform.
Some of the technical renovations needed to make the Brouwershuis operational include the restoration of the horse-drawn mill and the wheel that lifts the buckets of water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir.
Hydraulic pumps that were added in the 19th century are also in need of repair, and given that we now know that the water in the Scheldt is not as “pure” as it was initially thought in the 1500s, a purification system be put in place.
The once large council chamber will also be restored with new leather and an air conditioning system that will help preserve the authentic historical features inside.
“The Brewhouse has World Heritage value because it is a testament to the universal importance of access to pure water in dark and murky times,” said AG Vespa.
“There is no second brewery, certainly not one that is still intact and will be operational again in the future.”
The Flemish government has allocated € 985,162 to the restoration project.