More than Punctual Interventions

Katrien Vandermarliere | Sofie De Caigny

First published in Autonomous Architecture in Flanders. The Early Works of Marie-José Van Hee, Christian Kieckens, Marc Dubois, and Paul Robbrecht & Hilde Daem.

Cultural Events, Competitions and Public Debate as Impetus for Architectural Culture in Flanders, 1974-2000.

1974. Belgium was in the midst of an architectural crisis. Between 1965 and 1975, according to Geert Bekaert, architecture was slowly going under. [1] Due to the economic malaise the building industry went into serious decline after 1973, and in particular young architects found it difficult to find work. Francis Strauven diagnosed the situation in 1980: ‘Once Belgian architecture had, and not without difficulty, assimilated functionalism or some derivative of it, and learned to concentrate on the production of ‘functionally’ expressive objects, it lost all sense of urban character and contextually, and now finds it extremely difficult to recapture those qualities’. [2] The malaise was caused by a mix of an ineffective or non-existent architectural policy, a politicized process of commissioning, inadequate conservation of historic buildings (with only few protected monuments) and architectural education that generally was not very inspiring and that gave short shrift to the discipline’s social responsibilities. Moreover, architects could not rely on a vivid architectural culture in Belgium. [3] There were no exhibition spaces in which architecture could be shown, nor places where it could be discussed from a cultural perspective. Brussels has two architectural archival institutes since 1968 (Sint-Lukas Archives and Archives d’Architecture Moderne), but they were more concerned with the loss of Brussels’ valuable heritage of art nouveau and art deco than with contemporary architecture. There were no competitions, the workings of the Association of Architects was heavily criticized and there was no critical magazine for architecture, despite the foundation of A+ in 1973. The lack of a forum for critique and the deteriorating Belgian construction climate was made painfully evident in a polemic by Geert Bekaert which, though refused by A+, was published in a special edition on Belgium in the Dutch magazine Wonen TA/BK in 1983. [4] One of the consequences was that there was no such thing as Belgian architecture abroad. Another was that a group of orphaned young architects without commissions were forced to make their way in a professional environment that was anything but challenging. Such was the climate in which the protagonists of this book found themselves.

2015. Architects of the 1974-generation, as well as younger (particularly Flemish) Belgian architects are winning competitions abroad. They are invited to teach at highly qualified international architectural schools, to exhibit their work, to curate exhibitions and to give lectures. Foreign architectural magazines publish on architecture in Flanders. [5] What has happened in the last four decades? How could an architectural culture develop in Flanders that is influential abroad? What characterizes this culture and who has played a leading role? [6]

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[1] Geert Bekaert, Hedendaagse architectuur in België (Tielt: Lannoo, 1995): 169.
[2] Francis Strauven, ‘150 jaar architectuur en stedenbouw in België. Hoe België zijn huidige aanblik kreeg,’ Wonen TA/BK 12 (1980): 20. In his reference work Moderne Bouwkunst in België, Pierre Puttemans also reported the ‘intense disorder’ that reigned in Belgian architecture around 1968: the student revolts in La Cambre and the support these actions received from respectable professional associations were in sharp contrast with ‘the sombre hush’ that returned after 1968. Pierre Puttemans, Moderne Bouwkunst in België (1975): 243-244.
[3] Geert Bekaert, ‘Belgische architectuur als gemeenplaats. De afwezigheid van een architectonische cultuur als uitdaging,’ Archis 9, September, (1987): 10-11.
[4] Geert Bekaert, ‘Wie over architectuur wil spreken, sta op en zwijg,’ Wonen TA/BK 11 (1983), 10-11.
[5] Christoph Grafe et al., Normcore. Die Radikalität des Normalen in Flandern. Arch+ Zeitschrift fûr Architektur und Städtebau 220 (2015).
[6] In preparing this article Katrien Vandermarliere interviewed Pieter Uyttenhove, Paul Vermeulen and Hilde Heynen. The authors would like to thank these respondents.
[7] For more information on the Architecture Museum Foundation see Sven Sterken’s contribution in this book.
[8] Between 1977 and 1985 he was member of the Royal Commission for Monuments and Landscapes of the province of West-Flanders, and from 1985 to 1995 of the Commission for East-Flanders.
[9] Marc Dubois, ‘Algemeen opzet van het jaarboek’, Jaarboek Architectuur Vlaanderen 1990-1993 (Brugge: Ministry of the Flemish Community, 1994), 12.
[10] Luc Deleu. Postfuturismus? Antwerp: deSingel. (1 January – 1 March 1987) catalogue (Antwerp: deSingel, 1987); Geert Van Doorne and Jo Lefebure, eds., ‘Naar een architectuur-beleid voor Gent?’, Architectuur als Buur. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1988), 10; Bart Cassiman, Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem, eds., De architectuur en het beeld.
Antwerp: deSingel, 2-28 May 1989), catalogue (Antwerp: deSingel, 1989). The relationship of Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem to visual art is further covered in the contribution by Birgit Cleppe in this book.
[11] Van Doorne and Lefebure, ‘Naar een architectuurbeleid voor Gent?’, 10.
[12] ‘Open letter to ministers De Wael, D’Hondt, Geens, Olivier, and anyone else who becomes involved in building and renovation at one point or another’, archive S/AM, APA. The letter was signed by Bernard Baines, Peter Cornelis, Willem De Beus, Henk De Smet, Klaas Goris, Jean-Michel Huyghe, Georges-Eric Lantair, Eugeen Liebaut, Kris Mys, Mauro Poponcini, Stephane Beel, Jo Crepain, Philips Deceuninck, Giedo Driesen, Pierre Hebbelinck, Luc de Maesschalk, Patrick Lefebure, Guy Mertens, Willem Jan Neutelings, Frank Stals, Paul Wintermans, Jan Bruggemans, Marc Dubois, Christian Kieckens, Paul Bellemans.
[13] Geert Bekaert, Sea Trade Center Zeebrugge (Antwerpen: De Standaard Uitgeverij, 1990): 196.
[14] Marc Dubois, ‘Prijsvraag WISH’84: een nieuwe impuls voor Vlaanderen’, Wonen TA/BK 4 (1984), 7.
[15] Pieter Uyttenhove, Tussen kant en wal. De 19de-eeuwse gordel van Antwerpen: elementen voor een cultuur van de stad (Turnhout: Brepols and Studio Open Stad, 1993).
[16] Christoph Grafe, ‘Die Erfindung einer Architekturkultur. Bemerkungen zu den Wurzeln der Architektur und ihrer Lehre in Flandern’, Normcore. Die Radikalität des Normalen in Flandern. Arch+. Zeitschrift fûr Architektur und Städtebau 220 (2015), 7.
[17] In 2000 the Foundation integrated the International Centre for Town, Architecture and Landscape (CIVA).
[18] Katrien Vandermarliere, ‘Het experiment is een constant geworden’, A+ nr 253 (2015), 36-40.
[19] Marc Dubois, ‘Subsidies architectuur 1996 en 1997’, Jaarboek Architectuur Vlaanderen 1996-97 (Ministry of the Flemish Community, 1998), 220.
[20] The members included: Jan Verlinden (chairman), Mil De Kooning, Marc Dubois, Hilde Heynen, Francis Strauven, Herman Stynen, Jan Thomaes, Pieter Uyttenhove, Katrien Vandermarliere, Jan Vermassen and Luc Verpoest (Subsidies architectuur 1998, 220).
[21] The Architecture Prize has been awarded to the following people: Luc Deleu (1995), Paul Robbrecht, Hilde Daem and Marie-José Van Hee (1997), Christian Kieckens (1999), Eric Antonis (2001), Filip De Pau (2003), Wim Cuyvers (2005), Ralf Coussée en Klaas Goris (2007), bOb Van Reeth (2009), Paul Vermeulen (2011) and Kristiaan Borret (2013).
[22] Hilde Heynen, ‘Ter inleiding. De plaats van architectuur in Vlaanderen’, Jaarboek Architectuur Vlaanderen 1994-95 (Brussels Ministry of the Flemish Community, 1996), 17.
[23] Koen Van Synghel, ‘Schouwburg tussen grunge en gadgets’, De Standaard, 7 February, 2004.
[24] André Loeckx, Stadsvernieuwingsprojecten in Vlaanderen. Ontwerpend onderzoek en capacitybuilding (Amsterdam: SUN Publishers, 2009): 10-16.
[25] For the interaction with interior, see the article by Fredie Floré in this book.
[26] Bart Lootsma, Superdutch (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2000).