Beneath the city of Antwerp lies a vast network of forgotten underground tunnels, sewage canals and abandoned metro tunnels. Only the non-claustrophobic are brave enough to visit the dark and damp tunnels now, but what if they were brought to life again? As part of his thesis project at the University of Nebraska for his Masters in Architecture, Jon Martin proposes transforming these abandoned tunnels into an archaeology museum. This subterranean museum takes inspiration from W.G. Sebald's novel, Austerlitz, and explores the architectural foundations of Antwerp as well as archaeology and cinema.
Martin’s thesis project was inspired by the novel Austerlitz, which is an exploration of architecture as a narrative. He proposes transforming the abandoned tunnels underneath Antwerp’s central station into the Museum for Self-Archaeology. Visitors to the museum delve underground next to a reflecting pool and head into the first gallery. The entrance to the underground tunnels is provided via a cascading staircase set below a large void that lets light enter the dark underground space.
The first gallery deals with the theme of obscurity and consists of a long tunnel of three different paths all leading to the same place. At the end of the first gallery, visitors arrive in the main gallery, which deals with archaeology. Here, visitors will learn the roots and history of the architecture above them through the narrative of their foundations. After the main gallery, visitors travel through a tunnel with cinematic displays of projected historical events. Then they can explore a long narrow tunnel filled with the archives before turning the corner and coming full circle back to the museum’s entrance.
Transforming the underground tunnels into a museum would allow visitors to re-live their past, enlighten them about the city of Antwerp, and make an abandoned space useful again. It is both an exploration of history as well as architecture in an urban environment. Adventurers and explorers would delight in the dark, damp, twisting paths of Antwerp’s Ruien.