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BELGIAN TAKEOVER

Vincent Van Duysen | Hans Verstuyft

18th Sep 2019

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First it was all about Parisian décor, followed by Scandinavian minimalism, but the rise of Belgian architecture has swept to the top in recent years, establishing its very own reputation. The names Vincent Van Duysen and Hans Verstuyft have been covering the pages of Architectural Digest, Wallpaper and Dezeen for years, one impressive project after another and all executed with the highest finesse. An aesthetic which can only be described as minimalist-luxe, authentic and rustic; we had the chance to catch up with two of Belgium’s most prominent architects who have made a name for themselves on a domestic and global scale.  

Vincent Van Duysen, considered one of the country’s most successful architects, established his firm Vincent Van Duysen Architects (VVDA) in 1990 and from the onset has paid the utmost attention to the relationship between architecture, interior and product design throughout his range of commercial and residential projects.

What caught your interest in architecture and made you want to pursue a career in the field?

My parents educated me across many different creative fields as a child – architecture, painting, theatre – and my father had incredible intuitive artistic skills. These were the primary influences for my appreciation and understanding of beauty and, from a young age, fostered a natural talent for creativity. Also, within my parents’ circle of friends, there was a professor from the Sint-Lucas School of Architecture in Ghent who explained to me that the enduring quality of architecture was that it covered so many aspects of all of the applied arts which I had been exposed to.

Can you tell us a bit about what led you to start your own firm?

It started with an appreciation of my work and style. The start of VVDA came naturally out of ambition and passion for the profession.

Where do you get your main sources of inspiration from?

My design process is constant – I am always designing in my mind – never from a ‘blank canvas’. I enjoy being as observant as possible and have a strongly visual approach. I regularly sit with my team and discuss ideas and directions to achieve a shared vision. My ongoing inspiration comes from travel, conversations, exhibitions, people, everyday life.

How do you think architecture has developed in Belgium?

Belgium has a rich history of arts and crafts from the medieval times to the present – this is widely known. Belgium is strongly cosmopolitan in both arts and culture and has a huge breadth of creativity – theatre, performance, dance, fashion, architecture – with participation by many but in varied and unique ways. I would say that the Belgian influence in my work is more about this collective individuality than a shared aesthetic or palette.

This individualistic character is strongly reflected into the mindset of young Belgian designers. Also, things are moving fast and young people are engaged with everything that is going on in the world, for example through social media. This results into an increasing visual approach and engaging way of creating. 

What is your favourite project in your portfolio to date? Can you explain what makes it a standout?

I wouldn’t like to single out a particular instance. Each project has its beauty and is unique within its context, this way each project is an opportunity to learn and consider new ideas and explore new points of reference. At the same time, you must consider the context, location, relationships, programme, and brief, and this diversity always results in projects that are distinctive and tailor-made. In terms of excitement, I do enjoy the start of a project where I get to share new ideas and new references with my team.

If you had to choose one architectural attribute to be your favourite in any home, what would that be?

I have an appreciation for essential and pure forms. My attention goes out to a pureness in aesthetic, so it is not always about a multitude of elements and materials. This authenticity and pureness is achieved by undoing the clutter and getting to the core, resulting in well-balanced spaces which are usually connected with nature. So, in general, I do not have a specific attribute which I prefer.

In three words, how would you describe your architectural aesthetic?

Essential, tactile and authentic.

Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

I am currently working on a few private residences in the USA, Portugal, France, Belgium and Italy. Soon a service flat will be opening in Antwerp, Belgium. I continue my collaboration with Molteni&C as creative director with new product and furniture designs in Europe, Asia and the USA. I will also be working on new collections for Sahco under my artistic directorship which will be presented soon. I find a lot of enjoyment in the consideration of each new project as a chance to test fresh or unexpected ideas.

vincentvanduysen.com

Founded in 1992, Hans Verstuyft Architects quickly became a well-known name for their challenging and innovative designs. For Hans, architecture is to last, and any structure should have a soul which invites individuals to live in them. Going by their core philosophy, which is to think sober and to reduce, the architecture firm has continuously produced spectacular buildings, adding a sense of playful and daring architecture that many never have the courage to attempt.

What led you to pursue a career in architecture?

I was always interested in product design and the interest grew to a more general interest in beautiful things, be it graphics, interiors or architecture. I was fascinated about the 70s futuristic design, such as aluminium sheets used for interior objects, or like the Brion Vega television. Since product design seemed too narrow, I decided to go for architecture.

Is there a story behind you starting your own business?

Initially, I got a commission to build a house for a family and invested all I could to complete the project. That home ended up getting published and led me to four new commissions. Being an architect always felt like an independent job for me so starting my own firm felt natural. Nowadays, it’s different – architecture as a practice is much more popular.

Where do you get your main sources of inspiration from?

Books and publications, studying other architects from around the world, travelling and visiting. Not only contemporary architecture, but certainly old buildings, cities and so on teach us a lot to understand history. So much is already done, our job is merely to reinterpret old skills and ways of doing things. The place where we build and for whom we build are also very inspirational. We need input to make a project interesting – Carte Blanche is the worst starting point. It creates a writer’s block.

How do you think architecture has developed in Belgium?

It began when I finished my studies in 1990. During the postmodern era, young and fresh architecture started to get appreciated in Belgium. Before then there were very few interesting architects or those who were building new and exciting things. It developed in the right way, and now here in Belgium, and more specifically in Flanders we have a very high quality in the field.

What is your favourite project in your portfolio to date? What makes it a standout to you?

Choosing a favourite project is like choosing your preferred child. We’re constantly striving to improve, to make more pure and essential architecture. I have the feeling we’re really evolving. It’s a slow process, and we get new clients from what we did in the past. So, the evolution is slow, but I think that’s good, and even necessary. Our favourite project is yet to come and will never be built.

If you had to choose one architectural attribute to be your favourite in any home, what would that be?

I enjoy constructive parts like walls, floor slabs, columns; they can be massive, have a dramatic appearance or they can also be light, almost absent.

Can you tell us about some of your future projects?

We’re exploring more and more the best of our past projects, culminating our vision in result with less dissonant. We’re finishing our biggest renovation ever where we pared an old historical building with a concrete construction, resulting in a superb property in the middle of the city. Some penthouse interiors, a loft, a weekend house in Long Island in New York are all some other current projects. In short, we’re working on exciting and challenging projects which we love and where we can express our ethos and lay out soul.

hansverstuyftarchitecten.be