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Case study – Art deco masterpiece museum Villa Empain chooses APart for its sound system

Villa Empain has been rescued from decades of misuse with a five-million Euro, two-year renovation. All the loudspeakers have been sensitively hidden behind ducts and grilles.

Villa Empain has been rescued from decades of misuse with a five-million Euro, two-year renovation. All the loudspeakers have been sensitively hidden behind heating radiator or air duct grilles.

In 1929, the 21-year old Louis Empain inherited his father’s fortune and business empire, and commissioned a villa that is to become a masterpiece of art deco architecture. The house is subsequently used as his private home, museum, Gestapo headquarters, Soviet embassy and TV-studio. After decades of misuse, looting and squatters, the Brussels villa is now finally restored to its former glory. A five million Euro, two-year renovation project has turned it into a museum for intercultural dialogue. The management and architects chose APart for their sound system.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Empain family ranked amongst the five richest families on earth. Their fortune was built on constructing railroads in Russia, Congo, Egypt and China. Baron Eduard Empain was the driving force behind the construction of the Paris underground. As an admirer of old Egypt, he commissioned the construction of an entire Cairo suburb: Heliopolis. It was the boomtown of the early 20th century: magnificent villas, avenues and palaces sprang up in a desert oasis.

When Eduard Empain died in 1929 his two sons inherited the family fortune. At age 21, Louis asked Swiss architect Michel Pollak to build a villa that was to be a masterpiece of art deco style. Only the most exclusive and precious materials were to be used: window frames were covered in 23.75 carat sheet gold, walls were decorated with marble of uncommon beauty, and floors were covered with rare tropical hardwood.

The house was completed in 1934, but Louis Empain left it after only two years. In 1937, he gave it to the Belgian state for use as a museum. From 1940 to 1945 it was occupied by German forces, and after the war the Belgian government put the building at Soviet disposal for use as its Brussels embassy. A lawsuit brought the villa back into the hands of the Empain family. When Louis Empain decided to sell the villa in 1973, the new owner rented it to RTL for use as a television studio. After the network walked away from it in the 1980s, neglect, decay, vandalism and squatters reduced the once-magnificent villa to ruin.

In early 2007 the villa (in the meantime protected as a historical monument) was bought by the Boghossian Foundation who wanted to use it as a museum for intercultural dialogue. The foundation asked Francis Metzger, an architect with experience in renovating famous art deco buildings to lead the restoration. It was the start of an extensive two-year, five million Euro renovation project. Metzger and electrical contractor TS P&O ask Brussels integrator and APart dealer Strobbe to take care of AV in the renovation project. 

Laurence Rosseels of Strobbe comments “We worked with the architects on various art deco renovation projects before, and of course we were very pleased to be able to participate in this project. As it is a historical building, we had to hide all the loudspeakers behind heating radiator grilles or air duct grilles. Everything had to stay completely invisible. We used a mixed sound installation with both 100 Volt and low impedance amplifiers and loudspeakers.

“In total we’ve used more than 40 APart sound columns and some sound projectors. All the speakers are black in colour, to make them as invisible as possible. Further we have a paging microphone, and a BGM3000 CD-player/media player. We are using a Beyer Dynamic headset or wireless microphone for presentations and have two Xantech touch screens that are used to control the audio system.”

Rosseels is happy with the way the project has run: “This is a building with a true soul. Working within the restrictions of a protected historical monument was a challenge, but achieving all our goals and seeing a satisfied customer made it a pleasure to work on”.