The Antwerp Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

To mark the release of our Warriors edition, we've teamed up with This is Antwerp to bring you 100 Antwerp Warriors, a 100-strong selection of local movers and shakers setting the tone for the neighbourhood of tomorrow. From design and architecture to contemporary art and politics, these are the creatives shaping the narrative of the future.

BIRCH studio

BIRCH studio

Production designers

Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.

We’re Samuel and Liza, both production designers. We launched BIRCH in 2016, a studio specialised in production design, art direction, costume design and props for film, theatre, music videos and television. Our atelier is located in Antwerp, just between the River Scheldt and the St Paul square, right next to our home. Our daily routine changes with every project we’re doing, and which phase it’s in – design, development or shooting. Sometimes we sleep, sometimes we don’t.

How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

Every city has its own distinct soul, so it’s hard to make comparisons. What’s unique here though is the craftsmanship of the old days – the painters, the carpenters, the lace makers,… And then there’s the light, which is like nowhere else in the world in the evenings, and gives everything a magical touch.

What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?

For our profession, it’s a pleasant city to work from, because of its practical location. People here are helpful, especially when you mention you’re working on a movie. It’s an art form that can count on a lot of appreciation around here. Maybe it’s the harbour turning Antwerp into an appealing city, because it drives change. You never know which place is going to be the next big thing, or even where the next heart of the town is going to be. So it stays exciting.

Port cities have their own unique energy, a certain kind of beautiful rhythm.

How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

It’s hard to answer this question briefly, because we basically grew up here (Liza moved here from Ukraine as a kid, and Samuel would travel from Holland for his high school studies). The most memorable for us would probably be the electronic music scene in the late 90s and the early 2000s. There were parties everywhere – although maybe there still are and we’re just getting old.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?

We’d love to see the centre and the harbour merge a bit more. Port cities have their own unique energy, a certain kind of beautiful rhythm. It’d be nice to feel that type of change a bit more. More people and cultures coming together. More trees would be great, as well.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? Where would you take out-of-towners?

That depends on who’s visiting, of course. Our Ukrainian friends love Antwerp and can’t stop talking about its architecture and old masters. With them we’d explore the Middelheim park for example. Then we’d just buy some wine and wander around town, discovering hidden details and buildings. Or why not head to the left bank, to look at Antwerp’s skyline by night, have some fries with a shot of rum. A good daytime tip is Me and my Monkey, they serve great coffee in an open atmosphere. If Urban Kitchen Squad is on, we’d definitely invite them there, and end the night with a bang at Bagger to dance our asses off. But if we could choose just one place, it’d be the cathedral. The longer we’re working in visual arts and film, the more we appreciate the old craftsmanship, and the more we understand the structures. Look at the saints’ facial expressions, for example. There are so many layers of character happening there. Their design is quite strong and symbolic.

A local legend you like?

Gino Ceulemans, Antwerp’s most amazing citizen. We’re sure he’ll have his own statue one day, just because he was such a great human being. He once walked 45 kilometres to Bergen-op-Zoom, just over the Dutch border, to see the girl he fell in love with. It was night and trains weren’t running, so he decided to walk along the railway.
Photography by Joke De Wilde