FOSBURY & SONS

In the first week of December 2016Stijn Geeraets and Maarten Van Gool opened the doors of Fosbury & Sons, a co-working space in the WATT-tower in AntwerpDuring the Christmas holidays I had a chance to go and take a look at this new and much talked-about ‘it-place’. Because of the holidays the reception and café were closed, and there were only two people working, so I can’t give a feeling of how it is when people are actually working there, but one can imagine. The interior architecture company that realised the whole project is called Going East. 

The WATT-tower is a former electricity company office building designed in 1958 by Léon StynenLéon Stynen is called a Modernist Belgian architect, but I think he is rather a brutalist than purely a modernist. The bare concrete construction inside the whole building is a beautiful example of brutalist architecture. Going East called this project the ‘3000m2 concrete jungle’, which it is. They stripped the whole place to its core structure and kept the beautiful concrete like it was and in its raw purity, and built the other elements around it.  

When walking up a narrow little staircase one is greeted with a view of a big inviting reception desk. When walking further into the space it suddenly opens up with a 6m high ceiling. Light floods in through gigantic windows. The use of materials is very high-end and the style is vintage-meets-modern with a hipster touch. To give a nice contrast to the use of wood, steel, glass and textiles, they use a lot of plants to create a more breathable and viable space. I am absolutely in love with the play of different heights, different rooms, open-closed spaces, … it’s like a big inspirational maze.   

If I wasn’t living in London, I would definitely be tempted to become a Nomad or even share an atelier. I think this is the best opportunity to also get to know new people within the creative sector and to share ideas. 

 We worked with so much love on this total project. We did exactly 11 months from concept until realization. We built the space from scratch. There was nothing except the concrete. The big challenge was to create enough open space but balance it with private workspace. Trying to find the right balance between rough and details. And being consistent with our choice of materials. - Going East

Fosbury & Sons describe themselves as: “An office with a soul, an inspiring workspace where business, culture and leisure come together. A gentlepeople’s club connecting a community of entrepreneurs, digital nomads and corporations.” - Fosbury & Sons

© Photography by Frederik Vercruysse

EURODAL

My thesis project is about turning a car park into multi-generational council housing. A car park is mainly made of big concrete slabs, so as a sort of material research for my thesis project, I went to the company Eurodal, a Belgian manufacturer of industrial concrete floor slabs. I visited the company to have a closer look at the material concrete and how it’s made 

From the highway, I could already see the stacked-up piles of concrete slabs, which made me really eager and excited to see more. Philippe Segersone of the CEO’s of the company gave me a tour and a detailed explanation of the whole working process. 

At Eurodal they make the steel moulds for the concrete by themselvesThese moulds have a maximum size of 200x200mm. Different measurements are possible within the range of 200x200mm.  

First the mould gets a coating by a robot. This coating determines the finishing look in the end. In the earlier days, it was done by hand, but with the machine the coating is spread more evenly 

After the coating a steel grid is placed in the mould to create reinforced concrete. This is done to resist tensile stresses in particular regions of the concrete that might cause unacceptable cracking and/or structural failure. 

After that it’s time to put the mixture of water, aggregate, cement and additives in the mould. This mixture will harden to become concrete. Eurodal is a central mix plant which means they offer more accurate control of the concrete quality through better measurements of the amount of water added, but must be placed closer to the work site where the concrete will be used, since hydration begins at the plant. 

When the correct weight of the concrete is ready to be poured into the mould, the mould starts to vibrate, so that when the concrete sets in the mould, all the air bubbles can leave the concrete mass.  

After the concrete is dry, a robot takes the slab out the mould and adds 3 bricks on top of it, so the next one can be stacked upon it. 

Philippe explained to me which different finishes are possible and how they are made. They use mats with a certain structure that they put inside the mould before the concrete gets poured. In the product range they have brushed, checkerplate, wave and line finishes.  

Another nice feature he explained was how to make holes within the mould. They do this by using Styrofoam. When the concrete is dry they just knock the Styrofoam out and it leaves a beautiful shape.  

It was really nice to get a better insight into the process of creating concrete slabs and the different things you can do with the material and shapes.

First Press!! - De Standaard Magazine

Two weeks ago, An Bogaerts, A Belgian journalist approached me to do an interview about brutalism and why it’s so trending amongst my generation. The article appeared in the weekend addition of De Standaard, a Flemish Belgian newspaper. You can read it through the attached link with the English translation underneath the article. 

ÄNDRA BY SAM GOYVAERTS

Our lives are getting more and more mobile every day. We're all moving, job hopping, taking career breaks. Even our jobs and hours are getting more flexible. Does this unique flexibility have any impact on modern design? It does, according to Sam Goyvaerts. That's why he designed a modular and simple system of three modules named after the Swedish verb 'to change': Ändra. The system makes it possible that furniture can grow with and adapt to peoples needs. If the user wants to share his seat, he can adapt the chair to his new lifestyle: the loveseat. If it's true love, you can expand the seat even more to welcome the new member(s) of the family. In the future new parallel products (or parasite objects) will be created that can be added to the chair, loveseat, sofa, etc. (such as a flower pot that can be hanged in the frame, a small table top for drinks or laptop, ...) also the quote of Charles Eames is one that fits perfectly with the project and my take on design. "Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose" 

BIENNALE INTERIEUR KORTRIJK

The Biennale Interieur is a design fair based in Kortrijk Belgium. It takes place every two years and I never miss it. Two years ago, I was selected to present a table I designed there.

Normally the fair takes place in a large exhibition hall, while the city centre welcomes work by young designers and events organised by big names. This year the concept behind the fair was a bit different. Almost everything was located inside the main exhibition hall. The fair was kept a lot smaller than previous editions. I visited it in approximately 3 hours.

The young designers were placed in one hall had a hall called ‘The stage is yours’. I know a lot of the people there because they graduated from the Thomas More school where I did my bachelor. Of course the well-known names and designer companies are interesting, but I really enjoy looking at all this young talent. Being a young designer myself it’s always nice to see how people of the same age think and work. We are the future ;). I noticed that marble and copper are still trendy materials. The red marble Hullebosch presented was absolutely stunning.

The curatorial programme of Interieur was put together by OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen together with Richard Venlet and Joris Kritis. Together they created ‘Silver Lining – Interiors’. It’s an homage to the 25th silver edition of the Biennale Interieur. Installations were spread over the different halls. “The idea is that furniture and objects are not isolated items; they are always part of the organised space.”

The minimalistic and beautiful booth of Allaert Aluminium caught my eye. Allaert is a manufacturer of metal and glass windows, doors and curtain walls. Within the booth, frames with coloured glass were constantly moving, creating different views.

Interieur also organised a competition for bars and restaurants. Terra was one of the five award winners. It's a platform for different kind of mushrooms surrounded by a dining bar, designed by Carolien Passmans, Bram Aerts an Claudio Saccucci of TRANS Architectuur and Stedenbouw in Ghent (Belgium). Despite the fact that I really don’t like mushrooms, I think this concept was very pure and brought together the concept of nature and food in a stunning way.

Overall, I was not as impressed with this edition as with the previous ones, but I definitely don’t regret going.

 

ELEMENTS OF NOW

In London I met Pauline Janssen, a girl from Belgium, Ghent. She recently moved to London and is working at auction house Bonhams. Aside from working there she also started selling vintage jewellery on her Instagram page, 'Pauline's Jewellery Box'.

Pauline started a collective together with Arthur Buerms, called ‘Life of L’. they created a platform for young designers and entrepreneurs to exhibit and show their work. She invited me to come over and have a look at an exhibition Life of L was organising, called ‘Elements of Now’ in Ghent.

I arrived in a beautiful town house in the city centre of Ghent. The floors were beautifully tiled and at the end of the entrance hall I saw a glimpse of an enthralling, elegant spiral staircase.

On the ground floor Pauline presented her vintage jewellery pieces in glass cloches. She gave me a little tour of the building, that completely blew me away: what a beautiful location to have an exhibition!

In the basement there was total darkness with just a sound of wind, water drops and cracks in the background and a spot on a little tree in the middle of the room. The tree was surrounded by scrap aluminium pieces and a rake. It all made for a rather lugubrious atmosphere. The work made me think about the contrast between life and death, but also gave me a claustrophobic feeling. The tree was alive, but in my eyes in danger of choking in the scrap metal. This art installation called ‘4.4’ was made by Elise Guillaume (Artist currently studying a BA at Goldsmiths University) and Joachim Froment (Artist and Designer currently studying MA at the Royal College of Art). It’s called 4.4, because they used 4.4 tons of aluminium waste. An excerpt from the accompanying text: “It suggests new landscapes caused by consumer behaviour. The duality between organic and industrial elements induces an environment of silent chaos.”

After this breathtaking moment I went upstairs to check out the stunning and really cool coats of young designers Alicia Meus and Audrey Joris. They created a brand called ‘AliciaAudrey Collection’. They design cashmere reversible coats for women. Their first collection launched in 2016.

I’m an absolute fan of the simplicity and honest use of materials. The colours are soft and well-matched, while the finish is perfect. They added a reflective material in some of the coats, a nice feature that makes them just that little bit more catchy and interesting.

I’m really happy I went to the exhibition. Pauline did a great job organising this and bringing young designers and entrepeneurs such as herself a step closer to the people. 

DISSERTATION - CONCLUSION

Why is it that brutalist architecture knows an upswing these days? Because of the transcendent architecture, its heroic attitude and the way these buildings dominate their surroundings 

Maybe there is the additional possibility that younger people might have gotten a little bored with the sleek towers and bland quality of a lot of new architecture. We are unconsciously falling in love with the nostalgic aspect of the movement and the fascination for concrete.  

Brutalist buildings function well when things are shared, when there is a social cohesion, because that’s what the architects intended. This shows particularly in the tower blocks and high density building schemes with shared amenities. That’s what is part of the philosophy of the development: a sense that apartments are for immediate functional needs, whilst the cultural and social components of living are out ‘in the open’.  

Nowadays, most buildings are either for corporate use or impossibly expensive apartments in the private sector. In the Barbican there is a ‘public’ feeling in a way that very few modern developments have. This is of course an illusion, because the apartments are private and very expensive, but there is a sort of welcoming quality to the public space and a sense of exploration in three dimensions. This is certainly because of the beautiful open public terrace, the public arts centre and the path walks.  

When brutalism started, it was everywhere and in everything. All things were brutal, all things were concrete. Today, brutalism is still alive. Nowadays, it doesn’t only use concrete, but also adds steel, glass and other materials. Architects still design and build brutalist buildings.  

Architects like LiebeskindMies Van Der Rohe and even Zaha Hadid call themselves modernists, but are in a way also brutalists. They have a certain brutalist attitude and aesthetic in the use of powerful, repetitive graphic shapes 

During this search about why there is a revival I figured out why I love brutalism so much and why I have such a big interest in this style. I love the abstract, clean, geometric forms that are used, the story of repetition, the maze-like feeling. I like the way tower blocks are communities where all different kind of people are living and sharing at least one common thing: the tower, their building. The way this whole movement became an evolution of a certain way of thinking, of how we live together and how different cultures are brought together. When you’re on the balcony of a tower block you feel like you’re part of something larger.  

I associate the Stoic cool of Brutalism with the fact that we are looking to the essence today. Materialism has had its day and sobriety and tranquillity are the new luxury. The building and its construction is shown for what it is and celebrates its simplicity and poetry.  

Nowadays the progressive brutalist architecture seems to get the recognition it deserves.  

After my whole research into what a brutalist Interior is, I found out that the question should not be ‘What is a brutalist Interior’, but should rather be ‘How could the spirit of brutalism be rendered in interior design?’. It’s difficult to define a brutalist interior, because every architect has a different approach to the interior design 

Brutalism is all about the impression of the outside: a chunky block of concrete in different shapes. The inside of tower blocks is not as impressive as the outside volume of concrete. It’s about creating more living surface, high-density housing. In tower blocks the interior is trying to create a liveable place within a small surface area. In Lampens’ house this is not the case: his houses are large dwellings built in a completely different context. In all cases however the architect tries to create a more spacious vibe by using big windows. The relationship between outside and inside feels really important. In the Barbican and Arlington House, the less important rooms (in the architect’s eyes) such as the hallway, the kitchen and the bathroom don’t deserve direct light and views to the outside. That’s where Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower created an excellent solution by bringing the light in every room. The same thing happens in the Lampens house. Because of the window play, he creates incidences of light in every place of the house.  

In the tower blocks, the designer let the owner decide how to furnish the flat. In the house Van WassenhoveJuliaan Lampens designed the totality, even the chairs. In both cases it’s almost impossible to change anything because of the structure. All the systems, like heating, ventilation, electrics, water and the rubbish disposal are processed in the building. The problem being that today, these systems are outdated, which creates difficulties.  

The outside is very dense and overwhelming, but because of the big windows becomes airy again. The same thing happens inside, so in a way the exterior is reflected into the interior. In the tower blocks there’s no cohesion between the exterior and the interior, but in the house Van Wassenhove there’s a complete cohesion between them. However, in a way they are also juxtaposed, because the house is a play of geometric forms and the landscape is organic.  

This idea goes beyond just the interior. For most of the brutalist architects it’s more a political statement they want to make by building these chunky concrete buildings and megastructures. It was all about the utopian belief in making new cities, making cities within cities and making a city within a building, creating high-density buildings. It’s about creating communities within a building. It’s about breaking loose with tradition. In most of the cases the exterior gets reflected into the interior. Brutalism goes back to the pre-historic way of thinking, of admiring the materials for their inherent qualities as they are found.  

The socialist organisations had great belief in the future, progress, technology and this all starts with understanding the world and its needs. Concrete symbolised this future and technology.  

This dissertation will be a starting point for next year’s project. I will try to apply something of the brutalist heroism to the idea of a new kind of interior.  

DISSERTATION - HOUSE VAN WASSENHOVE

For my last brutalist interior, I decided to visit a residential villa instead of a tower block. The house Van Wassenhove is situated in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium and is designed by Juliaan LampensLampens is one of the most important postwar architects in Flanders, although the recognition for his work is quite recent.  

When I arrived in the street where the house is situated, I drove past it. It was only when I really searched for it that I saw the house appearing behind trees and green. The building almost melted together with the surroundings. The concrete already turned greenish in some places. From afar it looked like a big bunker.  

When I entered the house, I didn’t know where to watch and what to explore first. The nice contrast of the concrete and the wood was the red thread throughout the whole interior.  

After my tour, I sat down downstairs for another half hour just looking around and being amazed by this creation. I love that the whole house is a play of geometric forms and a play of light and shadow. I absolutely love this place, but it’s too open for me to live in.  

I’m happy to share these beautiful impressions through some photographs with you… 

PLEIN PUBLIEK

When I was in London I heard and read a lot about a new place that opened its doors in Antwerp called Plein Publiek. When I went back to my hometown during the Christmas holidays, a visit to this new place-to-be was on my list.

Plein Publiek is housed in a wonderful interbellum building in the Nationalestraat, right in the city centre. The initial plan was to abolish the building. Luckily that plan got rejected, and now the building will be renovated. In the time before the renovations start, Plein Publiek has been installed there as a temporary seasonal concept place.

The initiators, Thomas Wijnen and Yves Schellekens, installed 300 m2 of greenery in the courtyard of the buildings. This greenery is a playground for entertainment, art and food.

Plein Publiek is a seasonal concept. Everything changes with the seasons: the program, the menu, the decoration and the activities.

I went to this place three times and every time there was a long queue, but it was worth waiting for. When I finally got in, I entered a tropical arty and trendy oase that’s shut off from the busy city life. The place was full of happy vibes. It’s a place where you can have a nice chat with someone and at the same time get a bit closer to the dance floor and let yourself go on delightful beats.