OFFICE, founded by partners Kersten Geers and David Van Severan in 2002, is aptly located in the multifarious Belgian city of Brussels. Brussels has many guises; it is the de facto capital of the European Union, an official bilingual city, the location of the NATO headquarters, and a magnet for Muslim immigration. Much like the city it resides in, the architectural work of OFFICE requires a close reading from varying vantage points to uncover its multiple appearances. As Geers put it, “…very often things look somehow alike and then you look a bit more carefully and you realize there is something else entirely.” The firm currently has a major retrospective exhibition titled Everything Architecture on display at the Arc-en-Rêve Centre d’Architecture in Bordeaux, France until February 12th, 2017. The show features more than 50 projects and 25 collected art pieces that are related to the spirit and language of OFFICE. Additionally the firm’s multi-faceted approach has won them international recognition with the 2010 Venice Biennale Silver Lion. Geers currently teaches at the EFPL in Lausanne, Switzerland and is also a founding member of the architecture magazine San Rocco. Van Severan is currently a guest tutor at the Architecture School of Versailles. As Geers explained, the academic studio is a place of reflection where you can “…put a flag a little bit further and you can see if your train of thoughts that you had developed till now still holds or whether you have to adjust it.” OFFICE’s success has hinged upon its ability to manipulate essential architectural elements that have existed for centuries. The firm’s designs clearly establish what they call “territories” by creating legible perimeters that directly engage the fundamental inside versus outside dilemma. The reduction of architecture to its perimeter allows for an intensive investigation of the line between, as Geers explained, “Sometimes it’s a window, sometimes it’s everything, sometimes it’s a thick wall, sometimes it’s wire mesh thin…it’s always somehow there.” OFFICE’s consistent and precise application of these primary elements over a series of built projects is rare to find in contemporary practice. “If architecture is about obstructions, if architecture is about organizing spaces, if architecture is more standing in the way then solving things, we should reduce it to relatively simple forms so we can manipulate it,” said Geers. OFFICE’s pervasive collage style perspectives were born out of pragmatic necessity. When the firm was founded the partners “did not have a clue how to use 3D programs and these programs were also very expensive,” explained Geers. The resulting Photoshop collages are constructed with a minimal geometric toolbox producing a sparse aesthetic that helps the viewer focus on what’s important. The collages are produced by appropriating and redrawing concepts from artists. The influence of Ed Ruscha’s flat distorted large sky perspectives is evident in the collage compositions (see project (117) Drying Hall). David Hockney’s Los Angeles pool paintings with their flat planes, vibrant colors and multiplicity of readings are also a critical reference for OFFICE’s work. “In these paintings of Hockney, they are extremely beautiful, they are extremely… I would say joyful up to a point but there is also something very bizarre about them,” said Geers. OFFICE has consciously resisted the contemporary architecture fashions of formal excess, parametrically derived curves and hyper-realistic renderings. The firm’s strict adherence to the revision of elemental forms and the creation of a distinct collage illustration technique has allowed them to create a space for themselves within the field. As Geers noted, there are caveats to resistance: “Of course resistance is relative because you see now in the last few years that, quite frankly many practices have moved closer towards us. So at a certain point resistance becomes a bit idiotic because everybody has to change. If it is a resistance without inner content then it quickly becomes irrelevant.” OFFICE’s approach reminds us that a limited architecture vocabulary can create spatial complexity and a layered enigmatic body of work. OFFICE’s fundamental inquiries will continue to propel the practice and the field of architecture forward. “I think for us there’s the sense of architecture trying to figure out what architecture can do and how it can perform and what are its tools?” said Geers. (56) Weekend House Merchtem, Belgium - 2012 The project’s concept was to “effectively create a weekend house cut away from any sense of context and reality: a mirage.” The existing building at the front of the lot was renovated to a guest house with the long backyard becoming the weekend house extension. To resolve the long narrow lot and to create a clear internalized territory the house became a sequence of four identically sized square rooms enclosed by a 2.63m high wall. From the existing guest house the rooms are aligned as a courtyard, pool house, living quarters and a garden. The project is organized as an enfilade and is viewed as a cinematic, frame by frame experience of distinct spaces. A sliding glass roof can be modified to cover either the paved courtyard or the tropical pool house dependent on seasonal and user preferences. (117) Drying Hall Herselt, Belgium - 2013 The Drying Hall is the epitome of a building without content, where the architecture is reduced to a building envelope; merely a big box. This building’s main purpose is a space to dry potted plants within a larger tree plantation. This programmatic circumstance requires currents of air to enter but at the same time the plants must be protected from rain; therefore the building required a perforated perimeter and a closed roof. This pragmatic solution resulted in the use of perforated steel deck plates in order to create a thin, porous and economical perimeter enclosure. The building’s continuously slanted roof “gives the building multiple appearances from different vantage points,” explains Kersten. (126) Dars, Centers for Traditional Music Muharraq, Bahrain - 2016 The Dar Al Jinaa and Dar Al Riffa are part of an urban renewal project. Each project consists of both a renovation of an existing Dar (‘house’) and a new, added Majlis (‘collective room’). The project’s “ambition is to give a public face to the ancient community of pearl fishers, and their musical and cultural traditions,” said Geers. The Majlis are used as communal spaces for traditional performances. The resulting design solution utilizes a simple structure of round columns and platforms with allusions to Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino. The project adds another layer of complexity by “veiling” the buildings in a thin seamless steel mesh which creates an obscure volume with multiple layers of transparency. The mesh veil also reacts to the region’s hard desert sun by providing cover. In accordance with use the veil can be lifted to allow glimpses of the performances inside. The interstitial space between the mesh and glass façade is cleverly used to locate stairs, sanitary boxes and technical installations. (176) Campus RTS Lausanne, Switzerland – 2014 This building is positioned in the heart of the double campus of EPFL and UNIL, and adjacent to the undulating EPFL Rolex Learning Center designed by SANAA. OFFICE won an international competition for this project and it’s currently in the development phases. Its parti consists of four big boxes that support a disc-like volume that is suspended over the ground. “So in a way it’s one big interior carried by four boxes. Looking at it that way allowed us to endlessly redesign the building without really redesigning it,” said Geers. The suspended disc acts as a continuous interior field which has been designed with the intent of providing maximum adaptability. At the ground floor a glass volume connects the four big boxes and creates a central public foyer where users circulate to the different entrances.
Posts tagged with "Belgium":
As the world responds to the aftereffects of Brexit, or Britain leaving the European Union (EU), markets are down, British Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned, and the future of the EU is unclear—we bring some lighter news from the EU headquarters country, Belgium. A Bruges-based family-run beer company, De Halve Maan (The Half Moon), has finished building a 2-mile long pipeline underneath Bruges’ cobblestone streets for transporting beer from its brewery at the center of Bruges to a bottling plant outside the city. The medieval Bruges center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for is narrow, curving streets, became too small and traffic clogged for the annual 500 tanker trucks required to shuttle the De Halve Maan beer from the brewery to the bottling plant (that moved outside the city in 2010). Rather than move the brewery closer to the bottling plant, De Halve Maan brewery owner, Xavier Vanneste, had a different idea. After seeing the city install utility cables outside his home in Bruges, he realized De Halve Maan could create a beer pipeline. In September 2014, Bruges city officials approved the beer pipeline. The engineering firm, Depys, used a computer-aided drill to create an approximately 1.3 foot wide hole for the extra strong food grade polyethylene pipeline. (Intrepid beer enthusiasts will not be able to create a private tap.) The pipeline has a diameter of around a foot, and runs from 6 feet to over 100 feet below the city streets. The engineers used the city’s canals to assemble the 650 foot long pieces. The pipeline will carry 1,060 gallons of beer at 12 miles per hour, a pace that will help prevent over-aeration. It will also undergo a regular sanitation process. “The biggest challenge was to make the technical requirements meet the non-legal framework,” said Xavier Vanneste. This project is a first for Bruges (and Belgium), with no prior legal framework in place. Permits and registration required early planning. According to De Halve Maan, the pipeline is finalized but not operational yet. It will need to undergo a battery of tests for the cabling, connections, software, and automation system. The brewery says if everything goes according to plan, the pipeline will start carrying beer by the end of August, and at the latest, the beginning of September. The pipeline costs approximately $4.5 million. To help raise funds, De Halve Maan started a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $330,000. The highest donation level (at around $8,400) gives funders an 11-ounce beer for life plus 18 personalized glasses. While a first for Belgium, there are a few other beer pipelines in the world, including one in Germany. In Denmark, the Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, lived next to the Carlsberg brewery and reportedly had beer piped into his home. What’s next in Bruges? While the EU’s future is uncertain—see our report on the outlook for European and U.K. architects—the mayor of Bruges, Renaat Landuyt, supports pipelines for other uses, including chocolate. “Everyone who proposes alternative means of transport is welcome here,” Landuyt said this early May.
Two Belgian architects create a steel-frame maze which viewers can look down on from an old mine shaft
Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh created a sculptural-spatial intervention on the grounds of the Genk’s C-mine Arts Center in Belgium, where viewers must navigate a geometric conundrum. Through unique compositions of wall, void, and cut-outs, the two architects, collectively known as Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, explore fundamental architecture typologies. Labyrint comprises 5mm (0.196 inches) steel plates that have been geometrically hollowed to create a collection of continuous, never-ending frames. Arches, concaves, and hard angles form an otherworld, where viewers can get their bearings by looking through cut-outs that repeat themselves from one side of the structure to the other, revealing daylight on the other side. These dimensions were generated using Boolean transformations, a mathematical principle based on a system of logical thought. “Through a monotonous succession of high corridors, the viewer is confronted with openings that reveal what is on the other side of the walls,” say the architects. Lording over the structure is one of the old mine shafts of C-mine, a former coal mining site. Visitors can ascend the shaft, which peaks at 123 feet, and look down onto the maze and those exploring it – a vantage point traditionally reserved for the creators of mythical labyrinths. “In any other context, the installation wouldn’t have worked,” said Gijs Van Vaerenbergh. “The central square at c-mine is a completely different environment. “Here, we were confronted with an artificial, highly designed, large-scaled context that wasn’t very welcoming to make a similar installation. We therefore chose to build an installation that was directed inwards and dealt more strongly with space and one’s relation to it. We did so by looking for inspiration in a primal architectural typology: the labyrinth. In a way, this is an essential form of architecture, which is only composed of walls."
The roster of cities across the world going car-free is growing, joining Paris, Stockholm and Dublin
The concept of car-free city centers is fast spreading throughout Europe as increasingly gridlocked thoroughfares render the private car intolerable. Brussels, Belgium, has announced the development of pedestrian boulevards in its city center—with a ban on cars effective from June 29, 2015—where the city will stage recreational and cultural activities throughout the summer. A new traffic circulation plan will be test-driven, literally, for an 8-month trial period, during which the city will submit a request for an urban planning redevelopment permit. In the meantime, expect the development of eight distinct temporary spaces to enhance the appeal of a car-free city—from a welcome space with picnic tables, a dedicated area for rollerskaters and bikers, a stage at the Place de la Bourse, and a game area for kids at the intersection of Marché aux Poulets street. Stockholm, Sweden, well-reputed for having Europe’s highest share of clean vehicles, will host a one-day car ban on September 19 to galvanize citizens to envision life in the city without four wheels. Automobiles will be barred from the streets of Gamla Stan, the partially pedestrian “old city” of Stockholm, to the perpetually thronged Sergel’s Square, as well as roads around the central station and some of the city’s surrounding bridges. The ban is the Stockholm's contribution to European Mobility Week, a project by the European Commission that seeks to promote sustainable transportation. Over 200 cities will participate this year, touting various green initiatives. For instance, Ridderkerk, in the Netherlands, will hold Groene Voetstappen from September 14–18, during which children will be expected to walk and cycle to school. Meanwhile, Mosfellsbær, Iceland, will start a widespread distribution of bike maps, create new bike trails near Mount Esja and Reykjavik city, and launch a pilot project offering tourist bus services between the main attractions of the municipality. Appetite to reappropriate the roads has spread even to Mumbai, where car-free Sundays on a scenic, oceanside road are a much-anticipated affair on roads that are ordinarily lethal to cyclists and pedestrians, some of them lacking sidewalks and choked with vendors or parked cars. Given the proliferation of cities subscribing to car-free ideals—even those lacking public transportation networks sufficient to replace the private car—New York City’s passivity on this front becomes even more stark. On June 18, Mayor de Blasio announced a ban on cars at Central Park north of 72nd street and the West Drive of Prospect Park starting June 29 and July 6 respectively, but these vehicle scale-backs are minor in comparison, especially for one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the USA. New York does set aside half a Sunday three times a year for its popular Summer Streets event where Park Avenue from Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park is temporarily shut to cars. This year's event kicked off over the weekend with a large slip-n-slide in Foley Square among other attractions.
Daniel Libeskind’s recently completed Congres Centre, in Mons, Belgium, has opened its doors just in time to kick off the city’s year of festivities as the 2015 European Capital of Culture. The new convention center bears the architect’s signature jagged style, featuring two sharp protruding and overlapping volumes, and is designed “as a new architectural landmark for Mons” and “connector between the old and the new,” explained Studio Libeskind in a statement. On the exterior, a band of anodized aluminum sits atop and intersects the lower section, resembling a hull of a ship. The lower walls are clad with a vertical framework of robinia wood. On top of the roughly 41,010-square-foot building, a steel viewing platform provides views of the medieval town center as well as the new Calatrava-designed train station in the new “Grands Pres” neighborhood. Inside, there are three auditoriums, ranging in size and capacity from a larger 500-seat hall to a more intimate space with 100 seats—all outfitted with bright orange Tangram seats. An entrance hall dubbed the “Forum” can hold exhibitions and special events, and feature narrow skylights—another Libeskind trademark—which crisscross the ceiling to let in “shifting patterns of natural illumination.” The complex will also include a 4,000-square-foot multi-event space and 16 meeting rooms of various size.
A modern interpretation of a Christmas tree designed by French firm 1024 Architecture lighting Grand Place, the main public square in Brussels, Belgium has some locals seeing stars. Standing 82 feet tall, ABIES-Electronicus, as the modern tree installation is named, is billed as an eco-friendly equivalent of chopping down a living tree, but some politicians in the city say it represents a "war on Christmas" as the symbols of the holiday are abstracted away from tradition. The mayor dismissed the charges, noting this year's holiday theme was about light, and noting that a nativity scene is set up nearby. Built using readily accessible scaffolding and covered in fabric, ABIES-Electronicus can be ascended for an aerial view of the square and features video projections and changing light displays as well as a sound scheme. The modern design is also intended to contrast with the ornate historic architecture of the square. The architects told the French publication Libération (as translated by Google), "It is made of standard components that can easily be found nearby... And contrary to what has been said, it is cheap compared to the price of abnormal loads, crane and staff mobilized by these giant firs. And it is more fun!" The tree previously made an appearance in the town of Guebwiller, France, where the photos below and video were taken. [Via ArtInfo.]
It is unclear whether the newest Jean Nouvel project in Charleroi, Belgium is the first of the hybrid Police Headquarters/Dance Studio typology, but we would guess that it is. The collaboration between Paris-based Atelier Jean Nouvel and the Belgian firm MDW Architecture was selected in a competition and resulted in a scheme for a 246-foot tower and renovation of 19th century brick barracks. The tower is elliptical in plan and clad in blue brick, tapering as it rises above the buildings below, two of which, along with the new panopticon-like structure, will house the police headquarters. A dance studio and cultural venue for street artists is situated below the police station in the blue tower. The entire project sits on a brownfield. The striking profile of the tower, which will glow at night, acts as a monument in the center of a plaza. But it appears to stand in sharp contrast with the surrounding village and have little relationship buildings adjacent to it. While the height and compact footprint of the tower provides for a substantial public plaza at its base, we hope the image of a sleek police tower looming above a small village is not symbolic.
Wulpen Community Center Architect: Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu Client: Flemish Government Architect Location: Wulpen, Belgium Completion: 2013 The Brooklyn-based firm Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO–IL) recently won a design competition for a community center located in Wulpen, a small, coastal town in Belgium. Their design transforms an unused schoolhouse into a community center with three distinct parts: a multipurpose room in the former two classrooms, a youth space in a garden, and meeting rooms in the original teachers’ house. The architects placed the circular youth section at one end of the courtyard space and the multipurpose room and meeting rooms at the other end. Their design merges these three spaces through a curved, covered concrete ribbon punctuated with openings that wraps around the perimeter of the property in the shape of a “U”, an element that both encloses and connects the separate areas of the community center—the multipurpose room, the youth space, the meeting rooms, and the resulting courtyard and tree at the center. The white concrete walkway unites and embraces these diverse spaces in a gentle way, like a warm hug from a good friend. SO–IL has partnered with the Belgium architecture firm Bureau Bouwtechniek for the project and the center is scheduled for completion in 2013. Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow.
The Belgians avoided the politics and gravity that many of the installations are putting front and center, and their pavilion is a fantastic break. On its surface—the boxy, galvanized, and opaque surface—the project celebrates the 100th anniversary country's first entry into a Venice Biennale. Inconveniently for them, that anniversary was last year, but feh! If you want to celebrate, don't let the details get in the way! (We happen to share that philosophy.) "1907...After the Party" surrounds the otherwise-staid building in the metal struts used in scaffolding, and inside, there are only white walls, a few chairs, and confetti: Lots and lots and lots of confetti: Wandering around, you see a few photos by Thomas Demand, a credit for one by Hedi Slimane, and...more confetti. We'll take Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen's celebration of a missed anniversary over a regular party any day. http://www.officekgdvs.com/