ERA21 #06/2017 In Praise of the Commonplace: Flanders

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Faceless Architecture

Geert Bekaert

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Pavel Hnilička

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The Red Line. Renovation of Loučná Riverbank in Litomyšl »

Martin Rusina, Martin Frei / Rusina Frei architekti /

The renovation of the Loučná riverbank, in the center of Litomyšl, connects to a section previously completed by Josef Pleskot’s AP atelier. The concept of the renovation is based on connecting four different urban spaces – the waterfront, riverbanks, park, and street – into one functional whole. A city promenade under the trees is emerging on the waterfront, fringed with a low colored concrete wall that creates a border between the city and the natural riverbanks. The riverbanks are kept wild and made accessible only on selected sites with light observation posts where people can watch birds and fish. The park near the Smetana House has been transformed into a sunny recreation meadow. A restuarants outside seating was also restored, newly completed with a steel pavilion with a green roof.

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Fictions »

Filip Dujardin

The verisimilitude that digital imaging has attained in recent years has allowed architects to forge ever more perfect visualizations of non-nexistent buildings. Photomontage became indistinguishable from a realist depiction, so that the once avant-garde technique lost its thought-provoking qualities. A collection of digital bricolages called Fictions aims to disrupt this state of affairs and reinstate the critical intent of our perceptions of built reality. Out of some sort of chroma blue, photography became the unforeseen apparatus that was able
to trigger a much-needed critique of architecture’s own verité. 


In Search of Genuine Modernism. Notional Horizon for Flemish Architecture »

Tom Avermaete

Contemporary Flemish architecture is hard to define. Perhaps it is best described by the word “commonplace,” referring to everydayness, ordinariness, common and self-evident things; in other words, a hackneyed phrase or cliché. The term “commonplace”
in connection with Belgian architecture was introduced by the critic Geert Bekaert whose ideas are further expanded by Tom Avermaete
in his article for ARCH+. The article is reproduced in the Czech version with kind permission from the publisher.

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Colorful Layers. Restoration of the Ledeberg Town Hall in Ghent »

Architecten De Vylder Vinck Taillieu

Despite the city’s expectations, and contrary to the initial project brief, the renovation of the former Ledeberg Town Hall managed to preserve and confirm its multipurpose program and to rearrange it logically into a single volume without the need to build anything new. The grand street frontage concealed a tangle of four historic town houses containing the mayor’s office, law court, police station, wedding hall as well as a reception hall with a stage. However, the building was bursting at the seams with unattractive extensions bulging in the courtyard. The comprehensive renovation stabilized the historic building by inserting a reinforced-concrete structure inside, restored the white classical façade, and unified the protruding volumes in the courtyard into a new composition.

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Life Under the Gables. Market Hall and Renovations of Central Square in Ghent »

Robbrecht en Daem architecten, Marie-José Van Hee Architecten

A new public market hall was built on the site of an unkempt parking lot at Poeljemarkt in the historic center of Gent. The free street-level ground plan is demarcated by four corner columns supporting the double-gable roof, the height and morphology of the form responds to the frontages of the noble stone buildings surrounding the square. Additional facilities (restaurant, bicycle park, public toilets) are located in the partially underground level that opens into an informal public park through a glazed wall.

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Immateriality. Ecotron – Laboratory for Climate Research in the Hoge Kempen National Park »

Philippe Viérin, An Fonteyne, Jitse van den Berg / noAarchitecten /

An experimental laboratory, investigating the effects of changed climate on the ecosystem, is a part of the Field Research Centre, the scientific base of UHasselt, situated in the largest nature reserve in Flanders Hoge Kempen National Park. The design underlines both aspects – program and landscape – even more, the ambition is to reinforce both dimensions through architecture. The elongated volume is clad in polished stainless steel. Due to the reflection of the environment, the building is not present at first sight from afar. Only later, when approaching closer, the building “appears” and makes a strong impression. There is an interaction between absence and presence. The length, the horizontal line, and the absence of visible details emphasize the image of perfection or immateriality. Each visitor of the park should experience the building as an added value to the landscape.

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The Symbol. The Herman Teirlinck Building in Brussels »

Neutelings Riedijk Architects

The former industrial area Tour & Taxis, situated between Boulevard Émile Bockstael and the canal front, is one of the last development sites in the center of Brussels, progressively being transformed into a modern urban district for mixed use. The last project to be finished in this area is the administrative Herman Teirlinck Building, forming an impied entrance gate to the area together with the renovated Royal Entrepot. The compact six-story building with central indoor street and four green winter gardens is emphasized by a 60-meter corner tower asserting itself in the city skyline. The tower accommodates approximately 2,600 employees of the Flemish Government. The building has the highest degree of sustainability and it is the largest passive administrative building in Belgium.

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Between Levels. Social Housing in Schaerbeek »


The new housing project, on an exposed corner plot near one of Brussels’ main entrances, offers five spacious apartments for families in need. The project works with an irregular, north-facing plot, hemmed in between a railway line and a four-lane urban boulevard. To overcome the unfavorable conditions, the interior layout has been turned inside-out; the living areas are situated around a quiet courtyard and the vertical circulation spaces appear near the cold northern façade. The multi-level apartments offer various interior spaces, and provide enough daylight from all cardinal directions.


Architecture of Belgium – Amazingly Modest, Modestly Amazing. Christoph Grafe and Sofie De Caigny Interviewed by Kristýna De Schryver »

The Flemish Architecture Institute is on the verge of a new era – a change in the directorial position is coming, as is the fusion with Antwerp Architectural Archive. We talked with the retiring director Christoph Grafe and the future director Sofie de Caigny about the past development of Belgian architecture and about its future tendencies.


Stop Concrete. A Closer Look at Spatial Planning and Urban Design in Flanders »

Jiří Klokočka

Belgium is a country that is changing significantly. This is especially true in the fields of spatial planning, urban design, and architecture. If “transition” means the change of a system, and “transformation” means individual partial changes falling within that transition, then we should deal with system changes in urban forms. Architecture and its quality is mainly a result of general changes taking place in the field of urban design. Simply put: Architecture just fills in what is allowed by urban design. The changes concern both urban design and architecture, as well as transportation and architecture policy.


Collective Living in Collective Landscape. Design Research Project and Master Plan for Pilot Project on Collective Living in Flemish Landscape »

Bovenbouw Architectuur

In the past century, life in Flanders has slowly been detached from the landscape. The connection between living and countryside today is usually anecdotal or parasitic, often even both at the same time. This research project focused on the area of the so-called Flemish Diamond, or more precisely the southern edge of the Antwerp agglomeration. The explored area has a peri-urban character: the city is nearby, the pressure of urbanization is strong, and the remaining segments of the fragmented agricultural area are in danger of perishing. The aim of the project is in the selective increase in compaction. The densification will take place in small steps and according to new, compact schemes that are implemented to the basic rural module. The compaction is more than a quantitative task. The new compact structure also presents a benefit in the form of collective housing.


Let’s Go to Fibercity »

Ateliér Bruna Peeterse na Fakultě architektury Katolické univerzity v Lovani

Is urban design going to be able to respond to the challenges of the 21st century? How are we going to live in 2050? How should we deal with the ever-growing traffic in our cities? These questions formed the semestral assignment in Bruno Peeters’ studio at KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture (campus Gent). The examples of students’ project can be used to demonstrate the method in teaching urban design and planning in Belgium. To work in an international team of students, create in the spirit of the Japanese conception of urban design, and then apply it in the Belgian conditions. To search for ways to use modern technology and to find its role in creating the city of the future. To learn to design for a world where the population is decreasing and decline is imminent. There is an obvious difference compared to education in Czechia, where we often rely on permanent growth and perceive future technology rather skeptically.


Doing It the Belgian Way. Educating Tomorrow’s Architects »

Dag Boutsen, Kris Scheerlinck

KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture in cooperation with Volume Magazine selected several students’ projects that demonstrate the approach to teaching architecture at the largest university in the country and one of the oldest universities in the world. The selection reflects the Belgian way of teaching and making architecture and it is divided into three chapters not according to topic, issue, poetic quality, size or program, but as expressions of three concerns. The three presented spheres can be considered key challenges that architecture schools and architects themselves are facing today. These are constantly repeated and reviewed principles in the long history of teaching architecture that are integral to our culture.

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Palimpsest. Conversion of an Old Mill into Interpretation Center and Business Incubator in Anderlecht »


COOP is one of the new projects in the industrial Brussels-Charleroi Canal area that should work as the new backbone of Anderlecht in the future. The aim of the project was the conversion of an old mill from 1903 into a social and cultural facility, which would also accommodate offices for startups and a small boatyard. The key parameter of the design wasn’t space, but time. The mill was cleaned from worthless period annexes; only the two main volumes of the original building were preserved. The newly inserted structures represent a distinct and easily recognizable element that activates the existing technical monument in a non-invasive manner.

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Lines in Landscape. Het Zwin Nature Reserve »

Ralf Coussée, Klaas Goris / Coussée & Goris architecten / Floris De Bruyn, Philippe De Berlangeer, Frederick Verschueren / GAFPA /

Het Zwin is a protected nature area between Flanders and the Netherlands. The authentic maritime landscape with its sand dunes, mud flats and salt marshes, modelled by the sea breeze, mainly consists of wavy lines. It was completed with abstract volumes of a new visitor centre and a birdwatching structure. These architectural interventions represent the anchors in the landscape, and consist of a series of parallel lines that on one hand structure the landscape and on the other hand shelter as wind screens. They also create a fluent transition between the silted forest and the redeveloped landscape. They protect man from nature and vice versa. Cultural characteristics were evaded to maximize the natural character of the reserve.

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In Flanders Fields. Transformation and Expansion of a Water Machine into a Military Museum in Mons »

Atelier d’Architecture Pierre Hebbelinck

The historic building of a Water Machine built on the site of the former city walls was expanded with two new annexes and transformed for the military museum’s needs. The design is conceptually, spatially and formally based on the preserved technical structure. Its great hall glazed with cast iron mullioned windows functions as the main entrance with a reception desk. The enclosed and introspective nature of the exhibition space in both annexes contrasts with the spacious hall. A sloping floor and sparsely placed windows with views into the garden guide visitors though the exhibitions.

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Kintsukuroi. Restoration and Completion of the Maagdentoren in Zichem »

De Smet Vermeulen architecten

After restoration and partial completion, the ruined medieval tower near Zichem became a public lookout tower. The long-term deterioration of the abandoned castle keep culminated in 2006 with the partial collapse of the perimeter wall. Given the impossibility to reconstruct the building to the original state, it was decided to consolidate and cap the brick walls and fill in the breach to ensure stability for the purposes of a new function. The top of the wall is protected by a new steel structure serving also as a lookout deck.

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Stairway to Heaven. Lookout Tower in Tielt-Winge »

Close to bone

A Corten steel staircase has been erected above the treetops in the middle of Flemish farmland. The distinctive design of the new lookout tower near the village of Tielt-Winge reflects the old tower’s history with fire, and the consequent requirements of maximum resistance to all manner of weather conditions, and vandalism. Made completely out of metal, the cantilevered stairway is clad in weathering steel devoid of embellishment. It offers a view from a height of 10 meters above the ground and with roofed seating underneath. The color of the cladding refers to the naturally occurring ironstone in the region.


Ugly Belgian Houses »

Hannes Coudenys

I feel an overwhelming sense of clutter in our country. Spatial planning seems more like an empty phrase, because it is nothing but chaos. It looks as if we first crammed every square metre with buildings before deciding to put some streets here and there. Ugly Belgian Houses, a photographic cycle, is a reflection on the sometimes surreal town planning and architecture in Belgium that suffers from low-level regulation, and the universal perception of beauty and ugliness.



Architecture Influenced by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Petr Vaněk


In a Passive House the Air Is Always Fresh

Libor Hrubý

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Turf. Restoration and Completion of the Schönkirch Palace and New Multipurpose Building in Prague »

Stanislav Fiala / Fiala + Nemec /

The project Drn includes the restoration of the Schönkirch Palace with courtyard wings in Mikulandská Street, the completion of a cross annex, and a new building in the adjacent vacant lot on the corner of Národní and Mikulandská Streets. A recreation area with a tree, cafés, and a restaurant has been created in the courtyard; the upper levels of the 32-meter-high building accommodate offices. The façade is glazed and fringed with green terraces. The adjacent Baroque Schönkirch Palace went through a difficult restoration process with emphasis on its most valuable Baroque stage. Precious handcrafted elements were restored and the building was completed with a series of contemporary artworks and interventions. The project utilized unusual exposed concrete treatment techniques, experimenting with various types of formwork, form liners, imprints, and colors.

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