Robbrecht en Daem | de Vylder Vinck Taillieu | Marie-José Van Hee | 51N4E | MSA | V+ | L’Escaut | OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen | noAarchitecten | AgwA | Dom Hans van der Laan | Lucien Kroll | Typology: Law court
‘The Eurotopie project will confront the major challenges and imperatives encountered by the European Union’, this year’s Belgian pavilion at the Venice Biennale proclaims, ‘as it analyses its key territorial, physical and symbolic presence in Brussels.’
As the UK bids farewell to the EU, the AR turns to Belgium – the adopted centre of Europe and a fertile petri dish of a new, exciting and prolific architectural culture. Jonathan Meades celebrates the country’s ‘multiple identities, its sublime painters, its eccentric writers, its formidable gastronomy, its thrilling urbanism, its magnificent suburbanism’, despite remaining a ‘specialised and apparently perverse taste’. Belgian houses, we are reminded in this month’s Outrage, are characteristically ugly.
Belgium has a difficult and painful history, with a blood-stained colonial legacy in Congo which is more multi-layered than it may at first seem. It is a country divided, into Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking Wallonia in the south, a small German-speaking corner to the east and bilingual Brussels in the middle. As the home of European justice, the law court is Tom Wilkinson’s Typology this month.
While Wallonia concentrated resources on the preservation of its heritage, Christophe Van Gerrewey explains, Flanders nurtured a new architectural culture. But projects such as Quai 10 by V+ and L’Escaut in Charleroi are evidence of a new architecture emerging in Wallonia, as well as setting a precedent for urbanistically literate, high-quality urban renewal in a post-industrial city. In Antwerp in northern Flanders, ‘slow urbanism’ has transformed the expansive docklands into a new piece of city, with projects by Belgian architects including noAarchitecten, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, META and de Vylder Vinck Taillieu, as well as architects from abroad.
Owen Hatherley reveals Belgium’s Houses of the People, and we evaluate the award-winning Navez social housing project in northern Brussels, the product of a Neighbourhood Contract. We revisit Dom Hans van der Laan’s Roosenberg Abbey, echoes of which resonate in Marie-José Van Hee’s most recent domestic creation, exclusively revealed in this issue. The work of Van Hee’s long-time collaborators, Robbrecht en Daem, is explored by William Mann, the Belgian maverick Lucien Kroll appears in this month’s Reputations, and we take a closer look at the enigmatic Caritas psychiatric hospital by de Vylder Vinck Taillieu.
And as we consider the future of Europe, Huw Lemmey assesses the merits of the European city in his review of Owen Hatherley’s Trans-Europe Express, and we leave the borders of Belgium to review Belgian practice 51N4E’s Skanderbeg Square in the Albanian capital of Tirana.