BRIEF THESIS PROJECT

My interest for the topic of my thesis project started during the research for my dissertation about brutalism and a brutalist interior. During this search I figured out why I love brutalism so much and why I have such a big interest in this style.  

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. 

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.  

Aside from the positive thoughts the high-rise brutalist buildings brought with them, there were also a lot of negative critiques about these structures.  

Paved walking trails are pretty common in brutalist building projects. These ‘air paths’ for pedestrians were often places of criminality. Because of bad maintenance there were filthy slums, juvenility and the scary bits of society. In the end brutalism was often associated with poverty.  

Councils rehoused people from streets and neighbourhood communities, often breaking up extended families and destroying social links. The intimate association of house and street was ruptured. In particular, it meant that parents could not easily monitor children’s playtime.  

Peter Chadwick once said that there is this negative redundant space around the building which prompts anti-social behaviour. I can agree with that because I live in a 7- floor high brutalist tower block and I don’t know the people I live with because there is a lack of communication between the community. This is because there is not enough space, or at least space intended to start conversation. So first I thought about approaching this problem by creating little interventions within the communal spaces like the entrance, the elevator, the ‘air path’ and the roof. But this would become a too small scaled project, almost like a furniture installation.  

That’s when I started thinking on a largely bigger-scale idea. I wanted to reflect the positive and improve the negative elements of the brutalist high-rise interior into a similar structure. That’s when I came to the idea of a car park.  

You can’t go more brutal then a car park. A car park is designed for heavy and shifting loads of moving vehicles and the structures are made of heavy, chunky concrete. The structure of the building is left without any redundant ornaments. The building is there purely for its function. It is literally just stacking up floors vertically.  

Rethinking the function of a car park in London is actually something to really think about, especially in the nearby future. London is the most expensive city in the world to park your car. London has low levels of car ownership and it’s declining over the years because fewer young people in London consider having a car a necessity. Is there still a need for car parks? And what happens with them if they aren’t needed anymore?  

So I stranded upon this beautiful car park in Lewisham in South-East London, which is attached to a shopping centre. Lewisham is situated between Greenwich and Southwark. Why specifically that one? I had never been to Lewisham, but my practise mentor gave me the idea, because Lewisham is apparently upcoming and there is a planned regeneration of Lewisham town centre. A lot of new buildings are popping up and there are a lot of construction sites. I took the trainThe car park is within a 4-minute walk from the station. What shocked me is that there’s a waiting list of 14,000 people for council housing in Lewisham. So I really want my design to be council housing.  

In this car park I want to apply something of the way of the brutalist heroism to the idea of a new kind of interior, an improved brutalist interior, a Neo-Utopian interior.  

The built environment can be a challenging place for all of us, at every age and stage in our lives – whether as a child, adult, disabled, non-disabled, as part of our ageing population. How the home is affected as lifestyle and social/economic structures change through a life cycle is still a big challenge with the range of housing currently available. How does life changes from child to adult to old age affect the way we live? How does this approach the political and socio-economic side of living.  

In Belgium there is a new trend that’s called ‘Kangaroo Building’. The principle of kangaroo living is simple: old and young under one roof. The formula means that a younger couple moves in with an older couple. The original house has been converted into two separate dwellings. This has many advantages. For example, many young families that are inhibited by the high land and construction prices, can build. Older people, for whom their home is often too big when the kids are out of the house, can continue to live together "at home". In a broader sense, this means kangaroo is a win-win situation. The two entities enjoy each other's proximity and support each other. They retain their privacy and can still be assured that there is always someone nearby. As a resident of a kangaroo house, you decide how to live together-and-touch-apart- organizes.  

I want to propose a concept, plan, strategy, and building form that can work for people of all ages, paying particular attention to personal, social and economic changes in people’s lives over time. The aim is to foster more inclusive intergenerational communities. The multi-generation module will be designed to be inclusive for all, and can accommodate varied and changing life styles over time.  

It will be all about understanding the people – their needs, their concerns, and what they really want from a building – and engaging the more social aspects of the built environment that others overlook.  

It will be a concept that addresses the use of space throughout our lifecycle 

I will do this on the 3th, 4th and 5th floor of the car park and take sections as the Trellick Tower and Unite d’Habitation as inspiration.  

As my Artefact I created a construction of tetris-shaped blocks in different materials which are aging in 3 stages. “Generations” come in contact with each other and the open space between them is communal space to engage communication.  

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. 

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… 

DISSERTATION - TRELLICK TOWER

To catch a glimpse of and feel the atmosphere of the Trellick Tower, I booked an AirBnb for one night. I booked a room in the flat of a very kind woman on the 18th floor. The apartment was a 4-persons flat with 2 bedrooms. The 2 bedrooms, the living area and the kitchen looked like they had about the same surface area and looked like squares. The owner of the place had kept the interior completely intact. I really liked and appreciated that she kept it the way it originally was. It’s just a really beautiful and authentic looking place. Everything is painted white; the floors, the walls and the ceiling.  

I could definitely see myself living in Trellick Tower. Everybody is very social and has a certain appreciation for the building. Waking up with the view from my room was amazing.  

This is my view of the Trellick Tower through the eyes of my camera… 

DISSERTATION - THE BARBICAN

Who would have predicted I would become an absolute addict to the Barbican? Certainly not me! At least 2 times a month I go to the Barbican to have lunch, have a little break on the terrace and a nice walk on the levelled walkways. This complex of buildings takes brutalism and utopian town planning to the next level. The apartments might be small, but the gardens and the lake compensate with a feeling of openness. For me the Barbican is a place to de-stress, an oasis in the middle of City London. The plants, the water and the bush-hammered concrete make the buildings look more natural than a sleek concrete tower. There’s something human about it.  

To fully explore The Barbican, I wanted to rent a room with AirBnb, but this proved to be out of my budget. So I came up with another plan to get inside. I searched for apartments for sale and found a 2-bedroom apartment for £1250000. Now I don’t think a real estate agent would believe that a 25-year old can afford such an expensive apartment. So my mother made a phone call that I was going to check out some apartments for her inside the Barbican. Her requirements: one or two-bedroom apartment, as authentic as it could be and I need to make as many photographs as possible so she has a better picture of the apartment.  

I visited 7 properties and these were my impressions through the camera… 

THE BARBICAN - BRUTALIST ARCHITECTURE

You either hate or love the Barbican Centre. This 70s brutalist architecture building is designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. The first time I saw and visited this gigantic building I went to see the exhibition of Charles and Ray Eames. At first sight I found it a really ugly, bombastic building. The inside is really heavy because of the material use like a mass of concrete, dark woods, dark carpet and steel. The building is like a maze, I got lost at first, because of the many levels and walkways. After the exhibition my eye caught a view to an open area in the middle of this mass of concrete. There was some sort of exotic vibe. I didn’t have the feeling of being in London anymore. Maybe it were the palm trees, maybe something else, I don’t know. There was something interesting about the way different materials, different shapes and different levels were combined. I can’t describe the feeling, but I love this terrace area. I’m definitely coming back when the sun shines and will drink a nice cocktail with a book on one of the benches.

 

MARGATE - PROXIMITIES

The Autumn term assignment is all about proximities.

“Proximity, noun. The fact, condition, or position of being near or close by in space; nearness.”

This project is primarily concerned with developing and understanding of existing places be they a room, a building, a street, a district, a town or a city. The relationship of these elements to their context is of particular interest.

My building was the Arlington House, which on first sight looks like a dirty, grungy, abandoned building. But after looking closer and doing a lot of research, I discovered its discrete beauty. The Brutalist architecture was actually very clever. The East and West facades of the building imitate the waves breaking on the beach and enable flats in the building to have both waterfront  and country side views.

When I walked through the hallways, I felt really claustrophobic, like there was no end.

We made a section model from the beach until the railways to see the connection between those and Arlington House. By making the section model from Arlington House by hand, we discovered that it’s actually only repetition and piling up the floors.

I wanted to open up the building and I found inspiration in the S-cube of the tetris game. By making a composition of tetris cubes, I created a two-floored grid. Transferring that idea to the existing building, I kept the existing structure and just took away walls and some floors to create two story apartments. Some apartments have the view on both sides of the building and others have more views on the same side. In the end the building became a playful and more aerial space. 

MARGATE - ARLINGTON HOUSE/SQUARE, DREAMLAND

Not only the sandy beaches attracted the Londoners to Margate, but also the Dreamland amusement park situated in the city centre. It was opened in 1920. In 2003 Dreamland closed its doors and was supposed to be redeveloped. After public pressure against the redevelopment, Dreamland was preserverd but remained unused. Nowadays Dreamland is planning to open again, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

Next to Dreamland we find the Arlington Building with Arlington Square and a multi-level car park attached to it. Arlington House is a 58-metre high eighteen-storey residential apartment block. It was built in 1964, has 142 apartments, and was designed by Russell Diplock & Associates. The building is a typical Brutalist building because of the use of heavy materials like concrete and its minimalistic form. The East and West facades of the building imitate the waves breaking on the beach and enable flats in the building to have both waterfront and country side views. Arlington Square and the car park are still closed and abandoned.

At the moment Margate looks a bit like a ghost town, but there are plans to make it attractive again.