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Antwerp Cathedral Design Competition : Designing Absence Architecture Information

page updated 27 Aug 2016 ; 25 Jan 2011

Designing Absence Competition – Design

First prize at the regional architecture annual

Project for Antwerp cathedral’s second tower

Tower 2.0 … an augmented reality app for the smarter phone users out there!

Launched at the beginning of February, the brainstorming/contest ”Designing Absence” for imagining the second tower for the Antwerp Cathedral was surprisingly fresh and rich in potential. The conditions were very simple: no participation fee, no restrictions, no sophisticated requirements only a single image provided, and some simple rules.

The task on the other hand, rather challenging: to complete the south tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady – a national monument and part of the list of World Heritage Sites – by taking into account what the organizers emphasized : “… absence creates a blank canvas for today. By generating ideas for a new tower, we can put a focus on the cathedral itself. The given fact of an absent element within an existing structure functions as a great generator for ideas”.

Antwerp Cathedral Design Designing Absence Competition Design Antwerp Cathedral Designing Absence Competition Design

Given the importance of the building and the nature of the contest we considered that a different approach was needed in order to obtain a plausible and “buildable” solution. This in where today’s technology comes in handy. Augmented reality is a developing and still untapped field which is growing along with today’s demand for technology.

In our case it gives us the opportunity to emulate part of the attributes a built tower would have, without actually building it! We imagined the new tower as a smart phone app, which functions as a gateway between users and a server hosting information related to the cathedral. The tower itself would be the representation of that information, constantly changing in shape depending on the type of information the server holds, the upload and download rates or the interaction with the user (perhaps Voronoi?).

Structured on three levels dedicated to tourists, specialists and the local community, the virtual tower is pinpointed to it’s location by GPS coordinates. Different than the existing one, the augmented tower has only one “clock” facing the Cathedral’s Parvise. Due to this fact a distant user must follow the app’s internal compass and “search” for the tower, offering him the satisfaction of realizing his spatial positioning relative to Antwerp and the Cathedral. Only when the user, phone and tower are aligned will the data structures be accessible, of course after some zooming and rotating, depending on the user’s position.

Antwerp Cathedral Design Contest Designing Absence Contest Design Antwerp Cathedral Competition Design

In order to Give Back we imagined that the app could be available for a small fee and that part or all the money raised by selling it could go to the local community in order to be reinvested in green initiatives. By doing so Tower 2.0 will should be able to achieve carbon neutrality.

A Cathedral was, is, and will be a landmark which offers guidance in its city, harbours knowledge and connects people. “Tower 2.0” will be very much present on its user’s minds, yet it remains absent for those who chose not to look at it. thanks to : Frank Wouters, cobalt123, McKay Savage, Kevin Adams and Bill Tyne for licensing their works under Creative Commons licences.


Designing Absence Design Competition

Location: Belgium

20 Apr 2010 – submission deadline

Brief: Design a new tower for the Cathedral of Antwerp

Designing absence aims to create an international brainstorm generated by an absence. There are cash prices, exhibitions and a publication to win.
‘By playing with the idea of the absence, we generate a focus.’

Antwerp Cathedral

Keeping this in mind, every participant comes up with an idea for the unfinished tower. The competition can be seen as an international brainstorm, which means everybody can join. The result doesn’t need to be functional, it can be an inflatable tower or a high tech amusement park attraction. Your entry can be a 3d render, a paper model, a collage, a black marker drawing or anything else you think fits your concept the best.


‘If we put the emphasis on the absent we emphasise the structure‘

The cathedral of Antwerp remains unfinished. When they started building it in the 14th century they didn’t take the future in account and soon ran out of finances. They made the building functional but lost one tower.
This absence creates a blank canvas for today. By generating ideas for a new tower, we can put a focus on the cathedral itself. The given fact of an absent element within an existing structure functions as a great generator for ideas.

‘By playing with the idea of the absence, we generate a focus.’

On the website you can find a picture of the Cathedral with the missing tower (the ‘download here’ button). Your tower must be placed on this picture, the way how is completely free. Together with the picture of the Cathedral completed with your ‘new tower’, you should write a short explanation about your concept and submit it on the ‘Submit entry’ page. The downloaded image can not be cropped or resized. So you need to send the same picture back, only with addition of your second tower.

Antwerp Cathedral Design Competition image / information from Designing absence

Location: Antwerp Cathedral, Belgium

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Website: Antwerp Cathedral