Corporate Arcadia

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corporate arcadia


Corporate Arcadia An exhibition of CIVA Foundation, organised by contemporary Architecture department 23.06.2017 – 24.09.2017 Fondation CIVA Stichting President Yves Goldstein Director Pieter Van Damme Director contemporary Architecture Department Cédric Libert Curatorship & exhibition design Sophie Dars Carlo Menon Collaboration Carlo Goncalves Photography Armin Linke Assistant photography Silvia Cappellari Texts Accattone Dan Graham Lars Lerup orthodoxe Manfredo Tafuri Video interviews Sefik Birkiye Nicolas Firket Freek Persyn Philémon Wachtelaer Graphic design Ismaël Bennani Orfée Grandhomme (Überknackig) Video Gogolplex Traductions Patrick Lennon Eriks Uskalis Coordination, production, construction, pedagogical activities and communication Jamal Ahrouch, Marcelline Bosquillon, Francelle Cane, Mostafa Chafi, Stéphanie De Blieck, Patrick Demuylder, Jacques de Neuville, Renaud De Staercke, Tania Isabel Garduño, Sébastien Gilette, Manon Kempinaire, Christophe Meaux, Mihai Minecan, Véronique Moerman, Anne-Marie Pirlot, Laureline Tissot, Dieter Vanthournout CIVA Foundation Aïcha Benzaktit, Cindy Bertiau, Danny Casseau, Catherine Cnudde, Germaine Courtois, Dominique Dehenain, Oana De Wolf, Anna Dukers, Chaïmae El Ahmadi, Andréa Flores, Sophie Gentens, Ophélie Goemaere, Eric Hennaut, AnneCatherine Laroche, Anne Lauwers, Hugo Martin, Salima Masribatti, Noëlla Mavula, Mabiala Mpiniabo M’Bulayi, Luc Nagels, Mostafa Nanes, Yaron Pesztat, Lola Pirlet, Pascale Rase, Inge Taillie, Sarah Tibaux, Sandra Van Audenaerde, Martine Van Heymbeeck, Vincent Vanhoutte

‘One of the peculiar beauties of the twentieth-century context is that it is no longer the result of one or more architectural doctrines evolving almost imperceptibly, but which represent the simultaneous formation of distinct archaeological layers; they result from a perpetual pendulum movement where each architectural doctrine contradicts and undoes the essence of the previous one as surely as day follows night. The resulting landscape needs the combined interpretative ability of Champollion, Schliemann, Darwin and Freud to disentangle it.’ Rem Koolhaas, ‘The Terrifying Beauty of the 20th Century’ (1985) Corporate Arcadia is an exhibition on the passing of time. The starting point – 1989 – represents both yesterday and prehistory. If proof were needed, we only need to put three events back in the context of that year: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events of Tiananmen Square, and the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie. Remote elements in our collective, deep memory and yet are still present in our individual, surface memories. The year 1989 is also the year commonly accepted as marking the birth of the first generation of ‘digital natives’ – those who make up today’s youth. This change in our relation with time presents all the traits of a noteworthy paradigm shift: the switch from the predominance of the long time – deep memory – to the dominance of the short time – surface memory. An upheaval of ethos that is not without consequences for our urban environment. Historically, the city has always been seen as a stable reality that human life traversed, following the twists and turns of its own movements and existential vagaries. Strangely, during the past century, the twentieth, the urban transformations seem to have supplanted the unstable character of human life. Today one recalls the successive transformations of a state of the world that one has known, and not inherited from the splendour of time immemorial. From now on, the reality of changing cities takes its place in human memory, straddling different registers of variables. As an echo of and/or counterpoint to the exhibition Save the city, Change the city – Unbuilt Brussels #1, which bears in its very foundations the promises of an absolute ideal, we have chosen to negotiate the reality of the present time by inviting two curators – Sophie Dars and Carlo Menon, Accattone – whose methodological (im)pertinence could record a state of affairs and not a state of change. Like the photograph taken on 30 May in Brussels by Armin Linke, which features on the exhibition poster, it is a question of looking in a harsh light at a reality which is there, laid out before our eyes: the difficulty in viewing it consists in accounting for it, in plain language and without any excess. Cédric Libert

Fondation CIVA Stichting is supported by The Brussels-Capital Region. June 2017 © The architects, editors, authors, photographers. © Fondation CIVA Stichting Rue de l’Ermitage 55 Kluisstraat / Bruxelles 1050 Brussel Belgium

3 5 7

CIVA Foundation’s introduction Corporate Arcadia, curators’ introduction Armin Linke, Inside the Corporate Arcadia (1, 2, 8, 10, 67, 68)


orthodoxe, No one ever steps into the same river twice

24 Constantin Brodzki, Sophisticated cabinet-making 32

Accattone on Philippe Samyn’s Technical quest

40 44 48 56

Cédric Libert, Martini Lotto Rem Koolhaas, La prise de l’Europe Manfredo Tafuri, L’avvocato del diavolo Lars Lerup, A note on xdga’s public projects in Brussels


Dan Graham, Corporate Arcadias

Thanks to For the helpful encounters: Jean Attali, Olivier Bastin, Mathieu Berger, Jean-Didier Bergilez, Pierre Blondel, Constantin Brodzki, Antoine Crahay, Laurence Creyf, Lieven De Boeck & Xaveer De Geyter, Isabelle Doucet, Marc Dubois, Joachim Declerck & Roeland Dudal, Jean-Michel Jaspers, Christian Kieckens, Kris Kimpe, Sarah Levy, Benoit Moritz, Patrice Neirinck, Sara Noel Costa de Araujo, Stephan Petermann, Vincent P. Alexis, Philippe Samyn, Christophe Van Gerrewey

For the visits and the models: Maurizio Alabiso, Florence Angelici, Nico Bécu, Thierry Belenger, Kim Creten, Geert Cromphout, Horacio Da Silva, Lieven De Boeck, Liesbeth De Buysser, Roxane De Craemer, Martine De Keyser, Patricia De Peuter, Joachim Derwael, Dirk Govaert, Haroun Fenaux, Gerrit Feyaerts, Aurel Gavriolaia, Jonathan Heusicom, Robin Lejeune, Stef Leunens, Johan Lievens, Bernard Lizin, Irène Lund, Denis Luxen, Pascal Marlière, Thierry Martiny, Joël Mathieu, Thierry Meeus, Claire Mols, Pierre Muller, Evita Naumova, Marc Noirfalise, Eric Philippe, Gert Potoms,


curators’ introduction

Corporate Arcadia ‘Brussels is good for a photographer, not for an architect’1

rants, footbridges and hanging gardens, in-house maintenance and guarantee services, broadcasting studios, themed cafeterias, museums, multipurpose event spaces, auditoriums, sometimes even travel agencies, a mail service, newsagents, bank branches and ATMs: a city within a city for thousands of employees, an architectural continuum where everything has been designed, from the monumental atrium glass roof to the lift’s button, encompassing the whole building on all scales in the spirit of the end-of-the-century Total Work of Art. This mix of domesticated nature, bureaucracy and dramatized monumentality was already noted by artist Dan Graham writing on large atrium buildings, like those designed by John Portman for the Hyatt Hotels in the 1970s: ‘The urban corporate atrium is an attempt to smooth over contradictions between environmental decay and technological progress. As a mini-utopian retreat from the stresses of city life, it revokes the notion of “garden” as idealized landscape (the return to a pre-urban Eden).’2 In the Corporate Arcadia you could indeed live forever: electric generators and fuel reservoirs could keep the main functions up and running for hundreds of employees for many days, ‘even in the case of a total blackout over Belgium’.

This exhibition project started in February 2017 as a carte blanche in response to the question, ‘What has most influenced the real and the imaginary fabric of Brussels since 1989?’ Despite the creation of the Brussels-Capital Region and the introduction of new instruments to encourage public and private projects, the city has mostly been shaped by the corporate architecture of banking headquarters, office buildings and hotels. While in the 1970s and 1980s the architectural debate was rich in proposals and counterproposals, in the 1990s the built reality took over by sheer numbers. Large office blocks appeared on the Canal, in Little Manhattan, in the abandoned areas of the city centre, on Place Stéphanie, in the European Quarter and around RondPoint Schuman. Some office towers were dismantled, sometimes to be rebuilt; a few were refurbished. A strange doppelgänger appeared next to the Cathedral, the Marquis. Facing the Chambon, the Radisson Blu. At Place du Luxembourg, a private consortium A documentary approach of a dozen architectural firms and promoters started building what would officially be declared the European Parliament only The exhibition takes these built architectures as a given. They after its completion. are not presented as mere ‘found objects’ in the city fabric, but as matters of fact to investigate. The compressed time frame of the Neither old enough to be ‘history’ nor recent enough to be still project, the curatorial approach to these buildings, the display vivid for the public, these buildings have already been absorbed and the nature of the original contents produced for the exhibiinto the city’s incoherent whole, with its terrific potential to tion point to their status as preliminary notes for a further developchange endlessly while remaining essentially the same. Besides ment of the topic. In line with the editorial method of Accattone very few articles in Belgian architectural reviews, or some debates magazine, these exhibits should be intended as fragments, not as organized by platforms such as Disturb, such buildings seem fully developed arguments. They call for a suspension of judgeto have been disregarded by architecture culture. They are the ment: this first attempt to look at these buildings as historical most evident architectural manifestations of the 1990s and early artefacts while respecting the past’s intrinsic irony could not and 2000s, yet they remain hidden in plain sight, almost unnoticed did not aim for scientific rigour. It offers instead the opportunity by architects and passers-by, like elephants in the room. to approach them with a twist that sets the exhibition at an artistic and architectural level.

Inside the Corporate Arcadia

First, the stepped ‘theatre of objects’ assembles models and documents retrieved on site or from the architects’ archives. The disDue to their size and presence in the city, all these buildings tance from the viewers, though, restricts the possibility for inhave a public dimension, while their inside is mostly inaccessible. spection, making them silent witnesses of the scene. Are they the Highly secured, they represent the bodies of many public and pri- actors or the public? vate institutions that rule over the lives of citizens, architectures through which a company or a service literally gets in-corporated, embodied. The content of such buildings exceeds their social function. Besides ordinary office spaces and meeting rooms, they reveal a full interior urbanism of alleys, atriums, lounge areas, cleaning ser2 Dan Graham and Robin Hurst, ‘Corporate Arcadias’, Artforum (December vices, fitness centres, underground canteens and top-floor restau- 1987), pp. 68-74. See also John Portman and Jonathan Barnett, The Architect as 1

Christian Kieckens in conversation with Accattone, March 2017.

Clémence Piedelievre, Michel Robberechts, Vincenzo Rosso, David Roulin, Laura Semey, Charlotte Snios, Leo Van Broeck, Angélique Vancraenenbroeck, Marc Van Neck, Didier Vanderhasselt, Marc Vanneck, Hans-Bart Van Impe, Stefan Vansant, Kevin Versailles, Georges Volders, John Vrebos, Iris Walter, Alain Wouters For their precious help: Maxime Delvaux, Marie-Cécile Guyaux, Roxane Legrelle, Iwan Strauven, Tom Weaver

Developer (New York: McGraw Hill, 1976) and Charles Rice, Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman and Downtown America (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).


Second, Armin Linke’s photographic work from inside the Corporate Arcadia reveals, from today’s viewpoint, the hidden activities of these institutions and at the same time ‘restores beauty to these invisible sites’ (Bruno Latour), combining architecture, interior design and social function.3 Third, the magazine excerpts and the videos offer thematic insights and counterpoints in the form of seven ‘double figures’. Each building has been associated with a double – a project built for the same company in the past, on the same site, designed by the same architects or moved by similar intentions – and tackled according to a specific architectural theme. These couplings let multiple dimensions emerge, ‘critical knots’ that enable the exhibition to step beyond a small history of Brussels in the 1990s: the (re)construction of the city, captured between a new sensitivity to the built environment and the rush for office spaces in the new Capital of Europe; the call for internationally renowned architects to work in collaboration with local firms; the evolution of both clients and architectural firms, from individuals to groups; the crisis of styles, even in the work of the same architect, oscillating between International Style and eclecticism, a longing for art deco and classicism, tones of Gothic architecture and high-tech (all under the postmodern umbrella); quests for ‘total design’ and technological excellence; the representation of power and its architectural tropes, the facade, the atrium, the mirror.

Their trajectories reflect the changes that the profession underwent at the turn of the century. With the specialization and globalization of the building sector, multiple figures emerged that fragment the usual trinity of architect-client-contractor. Promoters, foreign investors, end users, programmers, project and facility managers, quantity surveyors, fluid engineers, building-site experts, legal counsellors, skilled subcontractors, transportation companies and stock-exchange brokers became indispensable actors of a project. In order not to succumb to these stakeholders, architects changed too: practices expanded and became larger service firms, identified by acronyms or by the principal partners’ names. Within the office or through opportune partnerships, architects reinforced links with the building industry and its increasing mechanization; they cultivated the difficult common ground with promoters and investors, whose language very often sticks to money and time alone; they maintained relations with local politicians and their sometimes unfamiliar views on how a building should look like or how tall it should be.5

These forms of pragmatism come from America. Most of the architects involved in the exhibition mention important experiences in the US at the beginning of their career. Sefik Birkiye was first able to give built form to his (and Krier’s) ideas on the Reconstruction of the European City in New York and Chicago. From the UN headquarters building site, Constantin Brodzki brought back to Belgium the workflow and the experimental, integrated approach to every building component during the design The Other Architect phase of a project. Philippe Samyn explored steel structures as deIn regard to a recent exhibition at the Canadian Centre for veloped at MIT, importing new calculation methods that increase Architecture,4 our ‘Other Architects’ are not those who, engaged elegance while reducing the volume of matter. in other intellectual activities, do not necessarily build, but precisely those who were in charge of the largest projects in Brussels in the last decades – those able to deal with the promoters, who The terrifying beauty of the 1990s can talk money and satisfy the demands of influent real-estate owners. They are the architects that Belgian architecture cul- The pragmatic turn of the profession and the pressure on real ture fails to recognize and to welcome on its platforms, probably estate in the newly appointed Brussels-Capital Region and because they are too complicit with the forces of capital to be Capital of Europe do not necessarily result in data-sheet architecconsidered worthy of interest. Charles Rice’s recent book Interior ture. Cost-effective buildings sometimes call for a certain status Urbanism also stresses ‘a kind of lack within architectural his- with regard to the institution that they house. The demand for tory and theory around what is inadequately called the “com- buildings signed by international architects like Ricardo Bofill, mercial” production of this period’. Understanding these projects Helmut Jahn or Michael Graves reveals the search for an archidemands indeed a different set of rules for both architecture and tecture of the image, where few architectural features convey the its architects. postmodern monumentality of the total work of art. But if the facade pleases the authorities who grant the building permit, the 3 Two main works steered the photographic commission towards artist Armin Linke: Il Corpo dello Stato (Zurich: JRP | Ringier, 2010) on the many institutions interior usually responds to market logics. It is telling that the cited in the Italian Constitution, and Inside/Outside (Amsterdam: Roma, 2015) work of such international architects is often limited to the exon private and public institutions in Paris. Linke’s growing collection feeds the terior, while the rest is built by local firms that can ensure good expanding exhibition The Appearance of That Which Cannot Be Seen. The quotation is from Bruno Latour, ‘Armin Linke, or Capturing / Recording the Inside’, Inside/ Outside, p. 44. 4 The Other Architect, CCA, Montreal, 28 Oct 2015 – 10 April 2016. Eponymous catalogue edited by Giovanna Borasi (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2015).

5 In a straightforward set of interviews with François Nizet published in A+ no. 122 (1993), ‘S’associer, collaborer, sous-traiter, conseiller’, André Jacqmain deplores ‘the practice of packing together architects from various political affiliations for any important commission related to the State or the municipalities. Architecture is a galaxy of stakeholders’ (p. 23).


relations with the building industry. The liberal interplay of references and quotations has added yet another layer to the complex image of the city, mirroring the previous stylistic trends that have left their mark in Brussels: the Gothic and the eclectic, art nouveau and art deco insertions, the bureaucratic takeover after World War II. The renewed attention to typology, also thanks to the rise of trained architects in the new regional administration, certainly provides ‘better’ natural light and street alignments. But the increasing scale of these buildings and the stylistic frenzy that inhabits architecture in the 1990s consolidate the city of Brussels as ‘an exciting spectacle of contrasts and paradoxes’, ‘a collage of fragments of grandiose, visionary projects’ resulting in ‘conflicting images, scales and architecture idioms’.6 The focus of Corporate Arcadia insists indeed on such interplay. The double figures and their combination enabled the exhibition project, in the making, to refine the questions it raises. How long is the life cycle, both technically and stylistically, of the largescale interventions that architects of all sides claim for the city? Can an architect interfere in the power structures of building process and city development, and to what extent? Can architecture embrace the contemporary condition of laissez-faire, of ‘anything goes’, yet develop designs that challenge it? The architecture models convened on stage – the theatre of objects – are called to perform as embodied figures, mirroring the temporary amphitheatre at the entrance to the CIVA Foundation where public and guests will be invited to debate. Their position is static, but the concepts they carry are mobile, open to interpretation and recombination: the same figures can easily be given new roles; new acts can be added to the play. Sophie Dars and Carlo Menon

ARMIN LINKE INSIDE THE CORPORATE ARCADIA The buildings presented at this exhibition have usually been portrayed by their architects before occupation, in the canon of architectural photography (symmetry, geometrical composition, cleanliness, wide-angle, sharpness, details). Then access has become difficult for the public: little is known about their interior. What lies behind the facades? Is the design outmoded, or did it keep the ‘eternal’ character that some architects intended to convey? How does everyday use affect the building? What kind of anthropology can be revealed by the archaeological tool of the camera? The original contribution by artist Armin Linke to the exhibition was the opportunity to explore and reveal the inside of fifteen buildings completed after 1989. If the colour pictures on the walls condense an architectural continuum in which the individual buildings are barely recognisable, the black and white, large format travelogue provides a richer perspective. Tenderly and brutally, without judgement nor aestheticisation. cover The President’s lobby in the European Parliament, Paul-Henri Spaak building (1993), Association des Architectes du CIC: C.R.V., Marc Vanden Bossche, C.D.G., Studiogroep Dirk Bontinck inside cover Elevators in the atrium the Radisson Hotel (1989) Michel Jaspers & Partners (Jaspers–Eyers), Atelier d’Art Urbain (Vizzion) pp. 8-9 Detail of Paul Delvaux’s Dawn on the City (1940) from the Belfius Art Collection, exhibited on the 32nd floor of the Belfius Tower, Samyn & Partners, Jaspers–Eyers Architects pp.10-11 Stock-exchange Euronext’s stand in the atrium of the Marquis building (1990), Atelier d’Architecture de Genval, ELD Partnership inside back cover Director’s office on the eight floor KBC headquarters (1994), looking towards the Proximus Towers (1996) and the North Galaxy Towers (2004), Michel Jaspers & Partners (Jaspers–Eyers), Atelier d’Art Urbain (Vizzion) back cover The auditorium’s lobby on the ground floor of KBC headquarters (1994) Michel Jaspers & Partners (Jaspers–Eyers), Atelier d’Art Urbain (Vizzion) Corporate Arcadia poster Rossian elevator in the atrium of the Proximus Towers (1996), Michel Jaspers & Partners (Jaspers-Eyers)

6 Géry Leloutre and Iwan Strauven, ‘Brussels-Europe: An Aporia?’, in Pier Vittorio Aureli et al., Brussels – A Manifesto (Rotterdam: NAi, 2007), p. 205.






Marnix I 1965 Banque Lambert (now ING) Headquarters, with Baron Lambert’s penthouse apartment Gordon Bunshaft (SOM) 28 120 m2

Marnix II 1992 BBL (now ING) Headquarters (extension) SOM, Skidmore Owings and Merrill 51 100 m2


MARNIX I & II. THE COPY How to respect and compete with a monument when it needs to be extended? Pritzker Prize-winner Gordon Bunshaft’s famous Banque Lambert (then BBL, now ING) has presided since 1965 over the boulevard facing the Royal Palace, expressing a cultivated, humanist form of capitalism. In the late 1980s, after launching then cancelling a competition to build on the adjoining plot of land, BBL asked Skidmore Owings & Merrill to opt for a safe solution and to continue the project at the back of the building with the same iconic concrete units, following a preliminary sketch made by Bunshaft himself in 1974. But by that time, both technological requirements and social organization had changed. Architects collective orthodoxe traces the parallel stories of the two Marnix buildings: from the open plaza to the atrium, from the bank’s unique patron Baron Lambert, an art lover involved with his city, to the merger of financial institutions held by international finance groups.

Gordon Bunshaft’s model for Marnix I, 1960. Photo Remy Bauters. AAM Archives

No one ever steps into the same river twice Frozen water caused by the intervention of the firefighters on the Hôtel Marquis d’Ennetières, 1956. Fondation Le Corbusier Collection


At 16:20 on Saturday 11 February 1956, a fire broke out on the third floor of the Hôtel Marquis d’Ennetières, on the corner of Avenue Marnix and Rue d’Egmont in Brussels: Despite the rapid arrival of the firefighters, 40 of the roof’s 60 metres were soon in flames. The fire was spectacular. A ‘sinister mushroom’, wrote the press, was visible from the viewpoint of the wide boulevards. Traffic was diverted from Porte de Namur. A very sharp cold – ten degrees below zero – and a strong wind hampered the work of the firefighters. The hosepipes burst, the ladders would not slide or did so badly, the ground was a skating rink. Sand, ash and salt had to be sprinkled to enable the rescuers to take action. The water turned into lacework and stalactites. The uniforms were made rigid through freezing. The vehicles parked on Rue d’Egmont turned into blocks of ice. Braziers were lit on the pavements. The rescuers saved the collections, furniture and precious objects by bringing them down to the lower floors. The water projected onto the roof proved to be ineffective. Holes drilled through the floorboards on each floor enabled the water to be drained away and the damage to be limited. A chambermaid, confined to her bed, having recently returned from the clinic, was evacuated by taxi. A crowd of onlookers gathered on the pavements. Many friends joined them. The maître d’hôtel, Nicolas, in white gloves, handed out canapés and non-alcoholic drinks. After the first three hours of desperate struggle, with back-up hoses, the fire was contained, but it took until the end of the evening, around 22:00, before it was certain that the blaze was under control. The red trucks returned to the fire station on Place du Jeu-de-Balle. ... The dance halls and sumptuous receptions of the Hôtel d’Ennetières had come to an end.1 For close to a century the Hôtel d’Ennetières housed the residence and the offices of the Lamberts, a banking dynasty. The family saga began at independence when Samuel Lambert, a Jew of Alsatian origin, arrived from Lyon to settle in Brussels. Within the orbit of the Rothschilds, he founded his bank and rapidly entered the circles of a financial bourgeoisie rubbing shoulders with the political machinery. His son Leon would continue this upward mobility with consum-

mate skill, in particular funding decisively the colonial venture of Leopold II, who, as a token of gratitude, offered him the title of baron. In 1919, Henri, the third to go by that name, took up the torch. But his premature death marked the beginning of a period of turmoil. The crisis which followed the stock market crash of 1929 was at its height, Nazi Germany was beginning to appear threatening, and the climate was growing heavier. The widow Hansi Lambert decided to leave Europe with her three children and embarked for the United States in May 1940. Immediately after the war the Lamberts returned home. But the bank had lost the majority of its clients, and everything needed to be started from scratch. The baroness took over its management until her eldest son Leon came of age and, in 1949, became associate manager. The Banque Lambert then underwent extraordinary growth, expanded, went international and increased its areas of activity, becoming a genuine flourishing financial group. The premises soon became too cramped and, in 1955, the idea of constructing a large building to gather all its departments was considered. Despite the family’s dismay at having lost its home, the fire of 1956 presented an opportunity. The Marnix block, on which the Hôtel d’Ennetières is located, is on the axis of Place du Trône, in the continuation of the long boulevards which outline the inner ring, right opposite the Royal Palace. The Lamberts could build a new, modern and ideally situated head office there. This proximity to the sites of power would enable them to establish their status. Intent on retaining their business in town, they purchased the three neighbouring houses, along the inner ring. Thanks to Siegfried Giedion’s intervention, Baroness Lambert struck up a correspondence with Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, to commission him to draw the bank’s future headquarters. At the time she was still considering the possibility, fanciful to say the least, of having it built before 1958, the year of the World’s Fair: ‘one million foreigners are expected, and we are at the most visible location; a building site would create a disagreeable impression.’2 To the urbanistic documentation which she appended to her letter, she added the list of artworks of her personal collection. She wanted them to be included in the project at its design stage. According to the baroness’s wishes, the building would need to be ‘not only an architectural land-

1 Paul-F. Smets, Lambert. Une aventure bancaire et financière (Brussels: Éditions Racine, 2013), p. 409-410.

2 Letter from Hansi Lambert to Le Corbusier, 23 March 1956, p. 2.


mark, but also a cultural centre’.3 Le Corbusier was on the point of leaving, heading back to Chandigarh: ‘I will take your file to the Indies, where I will study it when I get a moment to give it my full attention. The information provided interested me. I think that the problem presents itself in favourable conditions.’4 At the same time, Alfred Roth, a Swiss architect who had realized several projects for the Lambert family, introduced them to the American architect Gordon Bunshaft, who worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). As it happens, Leon Lambert was en route for New York and a meeting was arranged. He had retained many friends from his exile in the United States, but above all a fascination with the American liberal model. His ideal incarnate was David Rockefeller, also a young heir to a prestigious family of bankers and art collectors. For him, Gordon Bunshaft had just completed the headquarters of Chase Manhattan Plaza. When Leon Lambert arrived in New York, they visited together the aluminium and steel building, which stood out from the stone skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan of the day and became the baron’s absolute architectural model. He was fascinated by the avant-garde aesthetic and the grandiose presence of the building in the city, but in it he above all recognized a remarkable manifestation of the integration of the post-war American liberal model into the architecture of the International Style. Bunshaft’s oeuvre represented Leon Lambert’s ideal with such precision that the meeting between the two men went off wonderfully. The baron nonetheless had to explain to him that he could not commission the project from him: his mother was already in discussions with Le Corbusier. He promised to keep him informed of subsequent events. At the same time, Baroness Lambert sent the French architect a letter in which she revealed that she had ‘lost the battle’ and saw herself obliged to ‘abandon her beautiful Le Corbusier project’.5 She explained to him that his intention to work from Paris had worried Leon Lambert and his partners. Le Corbusier reminded her of his experience across many projects which he had carried out from a distance, sent his preliminary sketches and insisted: ‘if we clarify the division of tasks, I can undertake this work. Admit that I know, more or less, how to bring this undertaking to a suc3

Smets, 2013, p. 416.

4 Letter from Le Corbusier to Hansi Lambert, 27 March 1956, p. 1. 5 p. 1.

Letter from Hansi Lambert to Le Corbusier, 4 April 1956,

No one steps on the same river twice. orthodoxe

cessful conclusion.’6 Nevertheless, the collaboration was definitively nipped in the bud. If the Paris of Le Corbusier was too far, the New York of Gordon Bunshaft was in the end just an ocean-crossing away. A meeting in Brussels was rapidly arranged, which brought together the latter, the baron and Émile Blaton, an important contractor, client and friend of the family. The project team was complete, and it just remained to verify the possibility of entrusting such a project to an American architect. But Leon Lambert wasn’t worried; he had connections that could settle all the administrative hassles and could count on the Blaton company to take care of the technical problems. This leeway, combined with undoubted economic strength, would be a major trump card in the development of the project. Right from the start of the design work, Bunshaft managed to convince Baron Lambert of the need to be able to mobilize the whole length of the block overlooking Avenue Marnix. To extend the plot of land the only solution was to buy up everything. The challenge was a sizeable one and called for deft negotiations, in particular to turn out the café-restaurant Le Limousin, a popular establishment in the neighbourhood, and the premises of BULL, an IBM subsidiary, which would receive a parcel in Rue du Trône by way of compensation. The operation was essential, the architect straightaway recognizing the site’s strategic and symbolic character. Opposite the Royal Palace and the tall equestrian statue of Leopold II, Gordon Bunshaft was ‘not interested in making a building that looks like a gas station’;7 he wanted to erect a monument. When he first presented an outline of the project to Leon Lambert, the latter could not hide his disappointment. He who had dreamed of a glass and steel building modelled on Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Plaza discovered an imposing concrete edifice. The architect managed to convince him of his proposal with the help of two major arguments. The first was of a purely pragmatic order. At the time, the European steel industry was not in a position to produce the materials required by a construction such as Lambert envisaged. Choosing such an option would bring about 6 p. 3.

Letter from Le Corbusier to Hansi Lambert, 11 April 1956,

7 ‘I am not interested in making a building that looks like a gas station or folk art. I think the word “monument” is a very honorable word. When you are given an opportunity to do a building in Brussels on a site near the king’s palace, if you don’t do a monument, you are a jackass!’ Bunshaft G., quoted in Carol Herselle Krinsky, Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merill (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988), p. 156.


significant cost overruns which Bunshaft’s rationalism could not accept. The second argument, more delicate, concerned the project’s environment. The Marnix would slot in among the neighbouring historical buildings a lot more harmoniously if its materiality echoed them. Through this choice the Marnix confirmed a major shift in Bunshaft’s architectural production and, more broadly, positioned itself within a critique of the International Style. At the time, architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, but above all Minoru Yamasaki and Edward Durell Stone, as well as Paul Rudolph, were looking to individualize their output. They developed a more personal, more expressive architecture, by reintroducing practices which orthodox modernism had banished. And while Gordon Bunshaft did not express a personal opinion – he did not like talking about architecture – another SOM partner, Robert W. Cutler, took an active part in the debate. In a speech given in 1959 he warned architects: if they continued to restrict their architecture to ‘skeletons of steel, cantilevers, prestressed glass and what have you’,8 they would be quickly rendered obsolete by the engineers. Cutler aimed this criticism directly at the curtain-wall, the technical and economic properties of which no longer managed to compensate its lack of expressiveness. In Brussels, the major post-war projects were not exempt from this criticism. Unambitious office buildings followed one another in an urban shambles governed only by real-estate law. Only the Fonds colonial des invalidités (Foncolin) building, constructed in 1958 by André Jacqmain several dozens of metres further on, offered a credible alternative to the curtain-wall by its inventive use of Schokbeton, the architectonic concrete designed by the Dutch company of the same name. Its principal quality is to combine the structural, technical and aesthetic qualities of concrete in offering total mastery of its form, composition and surface. It is this material which Gordon Bunshaft chose to build his monument. He thus devised a mixture based on white cement, marble, granite and quartz which, while displaying its modernity, evoked the nobility of stone. In collaboration with his engineer, Paul Weidlinger, Gordon Bunshaft outlined a supporting facade composed of identical cruciform structural elements. Constructed in the Netherlands and delivered to the site like so many sculptures, they were linked together on the floor slabs, guaranteeing an optimal 8 Nicholas Adams, Skidmore, Owings and Merill (Milan: Electa Architecture, 2007), p. 203.

load transfer between the flooring and the facades. Becoming slimmer at their tips, the cross shapes correspond to the forces which traverse them. They are connected by a ball-joint made of chromed stainless steel which pick up the stresses of torsion and rotation. Behind these structural elements, the offset of the glass recess adds depth to the facade and accentuates its aesthetic dimension. Except for a penthouse serving as accommodation for the baron and his mother, the functions are those of a classic office building. They are distributed over seven floors with identical layouts which are superimposed on the entirely glazed base. Two underground levels house the bank’s safes, the technical premises and a car park. For Gordon Bunshaft the issue was less one of succeeding in making the building function efficiently – which for him went without saying – than giving tangible form to Leon Lambert’s social and cultural ambitions. First of all, the building had to be the very representation of the company and its philosophy, on the model of New York’s Manufacturers Trust, built by Bunshaft in 1954 and which discloses its strongroom by only separating it from the pavements of Fifth Avenue using a glass partition. Leon Lambert wanted a robust and powerful bank, of course, but also one which was accessible and transparent. Next, the Marnix had to present itself as an environment in and around which the passers-by, as well as the employees and clients, would rise intellectually and morally. According to Leon Lambert, ‘It’s time for big business to give people cultural surroundings where they work’.9 It was in this state of mind that the baron, advised by his architect, commissioned Henri Moore to create an imposing bronze sculpture to dress the esplanade. The Lamberts considered it a moral duty to place their private collection in full view of the greatest number possible, and Gordon Bunshaft, himself a collector, was particularly attentive to this ambition. He took the artistic development of the baron in hand in accompanying him to fairs where he swelled the collection begun by his mother. Leon Lambert thus acquired a Picasso tapestry, Mirós, Bonnards, Rouaults and bronzes which Giacometti had produced for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Apart from a notice issued by the Monuments and Sites Commission prohibiting the project from exceeding the Royal Palace in height, there was nothing to prevent the building being erected. The founda9 ‘It’s time for big business to give people cultural surroundings where they work. … It gives employees the feeling that they’re not just incorporated.’ Leon Lambert, quoted in ‘Architecture: Modern Medici’, Time Magazine, 13 August 1965, p. 44-47.


tions were poured in 1960, four years after the first drafts. The Marnix was the first project constructed by SOM outside the United States for a foreign client. Its completion represented a sizeable challenge. Practices differed from one side of the Atlantic to the other and the Americans were not ready to change theirs. In Belgium architects regularly visited their construction sites to finalize the details and specify the choice of supplies and equipment described in the specifications; in the United States the plans and the details were so precise that they left no room for interpretation and the origin of the supplies was specified by catalogue numbers. Furthermore, all the American architects’ documents needed to be translated from English, measurements had to be converted into the metric system, and each material had to find its closest equivalent.10 SOM sent to Brussels architects whose main role was to verify that the process of adapting the plans was carried out while respecting the original design as closely as possible. But the considerable work which this represented fell for the most part to the Blaton business, which invested themselves in the project while sparing no effort, aware that ‘there was something to be achieved in this work over and above earning the salary of their labour’.11 The ‘new Marnix’ was inaugurated on Monday 3 May 1965 in the presence of the royal family and of many personalities. The press acclaimed ‘a unique and prestigious architectural achievement: L’Agefi, La Dernière Heure, Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, La Cité, Het Laatste Nieuws, Het Volk, the Belgian Trade Review paid tribute, while Le Peuple and Le Drapeau rouge kept quiet’.12 In May 1966 the building received the prize awarded by the Société Belge des Urbanistes et Architectes Modernistes (SBUAM). This gesture of gratitude towards an American firm was not to everyone’s liking: several practitioners saw it as a means of punishing national architectural works.13 Admittedly the Banque Lambert building was not the work of a Belgian architect. But this did not prevent it from featuring in all the histories of post-war architecture in Belgium, or from paving the way for a constructional


Oregon sand, for example, is impossible to find in Belgium.

11 See the text of the talk given by Émile Lambert, Civil Engineer and Honorary Professor at the École industrielle de Bruxelles, on 16 November 1965 at 66 Avenue de la Toison d’Or in Brussels and/or on 18 February at the Ghent Rotary Club. 12

tradition nationally recognized as Belgian.14 Indeed, in widening the field of the possible architectural expressions of prefabricated concrete opened up by the Foncolin, the Marnix popularized this material and initiated a long lineage. The Caisse Générale d’Épargne et de Retraite building which Marcel Lambrichs constructed in 1974 in the centre of Brussels, and the Magasin Rob which Albert Nottebart completed in 1973 on Boulevard de la Woluwe, punctuate this history. But it was the Belgian architect Constantin Brodzki who most fully explored the potential of this material in working on its commercialization and on upgrading its image for the Cimenteries Belges Réunies (CBR), whose headquarters he built in 1970. The SWIFT I, completed 13 years later for the interbank communications giant of the same name, can be seen as the completion of this technical and aesthetic research into architectural concrete. In 1989, Brodzki participated in the realization of SWIFT II, built several hundred metres away from the first, with Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill. Two monumental wings spread out symmetrically on either side of a large glass and steel atrium. Here architectural concrete gave shape to facades of moulded pilasters and pediments in ochre tones. By the late 1980s, Bofill’s neoclassical building had taken prefabricated concrete a long way from its starting point.

Smets, 2013, p. 416.

13 Geert Bekaert, Verzameldeopstellen. Deel 2: Los in de ruimte 1966-1970 (Brussels: dbnl, 1986), p. 75.

No one steps on the same river twice. orthodoxe

14 Stéphanie Van De Voorde, ‘Le développement du béton architectonique en Belgique. Du Foncolin au CBR’, in Jean-François Denoël, Bernard Espion, Armande Hellebois, Michel Provost, Histoires de béton armé. Patrimoine, durabilité et innovations (Brussels: FEBELCEM & FABI, 2013), p. 134.

Samyn and Partners’ model for the Marnix II competition, 1987. Photo Jacques Bauters. National Archives of Belgium


Today, the Marnix is made up of three main individual structures that form an asymmetrical H and occupy the entirety of the block.15 The sum of these parts forms an indivisible and homogenous whole. The permanence of the classical proportions, of the glazed base and of the facade in prefabricated concrete outlines an ensemble which can be read as one. Yet 30 years separate the two parts of this H and, in the interval, the client and the architects had changed somewhat. The front section had been commissioned from Gordon Bunshaft by the Banque Lambert in 1956. The rear section and the central body were constructed in 1992 to compensate the lack of space and to financially enhance a parcel of land with high real-estate value. But, in the meantime, the Banque Lambert had merged with the Banque de Bruxelles, becoming the Banque Bruxelles-Lambert. Gordon Bunshaft had retired and left the task of completing his project to John Winkler and Mike McCarthy, his disciples at SOM. Such as it has been realized, the extension is based directly on a proposal drawn by Gordon Bunshaft in 1974, when the bank had first felt the need to expand. The American architect had quite simply recommended duplicating the first building, at the risk of producing elements shorn of their initial meanings and effects. The top floor, for example, manifests itself in the same manner in the extension, even though it is not dedicated to a penthouse. At the front, the 15 In that, it ultimately embodied an American urban model: the building occupying each block of the American city’s grid pattern and perfectly illustrated by Steven Holl’s ‘The Alphabetical City’, Pamphlet Architecture no. 5, 1995.

Workman applying cement paste to fill small surface holes, April 1991. ING Belgium Collection

glazed base opens out onto a public esplanade. At the back, it finds itself buried due to the slope of the ground. On the one hand, the building presents itself as a single monument along the length of the inner ring road which one can admire from a vast esplanade. On the other, it backs up against a dense urban fabric and casts shadows over narrow streets. But above all, owing to the extension, the front-facing facade has become a lateral facade, occupied by a bank branch and its automated cash dispensers. As an isolated object, the second Marnix is materially identical to the first. However, as a situated object it differs from it fundamentally. Seen as a copy, the extension proposal proves to be fragile. In reality, in the 1960s, Bunshaft had produced two drafts of what the Marnix could have been. The first was very close to the asymmetrical H which was built. The second organised the project around a patio on the basis of O plan. This proposal had been abandoned in 1960 because the side roads were too narrow and was never picked up again. Such as it was finally built, the extension thus presents itself as the completion of a complex process. It results from the efforts made by John Winkler and Mike McCarthy to update the proposal which Bunshaft drew in 1974, which he himself based on one of the abandoned 1960 drafts. And this, with the sole architectural ambition of producing an ensemble which gives the impression that it has always been there. As luck would have it, the concrete of the 1960s had been sanded, taking on a granular appearance which was easier to reproduce than the initial smooth and


shiny rendering. But in the intervening period the programme and the techniques had inevitably evolved, bringing about a chain reaction of causes and effects. The bank asked for an auditorium, for example. This new demand would inevitably have conditioned the building’s form and organization if the architects had not simply decided to make it disappear in the underground storeys. The architects also needed to include a ventilation system. Except that the ceiling heights of the first building were too limited to enable the shafts to pass through if they were reproduced identically in the second. To respect the detail of the connection in the facade, the architects thus had to increase the space available under the slabs, without for all that modifying their position. They came to strengthen the concrete’s reinforcing bars so as to be able to reduce the thickness of the slabs. But in doing so, they made them heavier and transferred the problem to the facades, which now took their weight. In the end it was the metal ball joints which absorbed these changes. To preserve their dimensions as calculated and optimized for Marnix I, they were thus produced in an alloy with better performances on a mechanical level. Their aesthetic qualities were slightly impaired as a result. They were less dazzling, less smooth, and did not match up to their model. Thus, the operation’s success stemmed as much from the architects’ stubbornness in removing from the equation any disruptive element as much as from the creativity they demonstrated in resolving the technical problems they faced. While certainly equal to it in terms of scale, this inventiveness differed in substance from that deployed for the first building: it only aimed to conceal itself. Through this process the two architects come across as executors. They never called into question the pertinence of the decisions made; they never questioned the decision to pick up on the 1974 project, no more than they looked for alternatives by opening up its history. Gordon Bunshaft had definitively left SOM and his successors did not take over his proposal. In other words, the extension is authorless. The existence of the 1974 plan and its prefiguration in the 1960s project the image of a linear history whose outcome was inevitable. But in reality the actual conclusion is just one among others, which were sidelined in the course of a more complex process. When it initiated the extension project in 1987, the bank was alarmed at the idea of ‘mutilating the remarkable extant facade’,16 both literally and figuratively. If it was

aiming for ‘the perfection of a simple and rigorous expression’,17 it could not choose between a new building applying the same materials, the same modular principles, the same design as those of the building conceived of by SOM or a project with an entirely different architectural aesthetic.18 To gain some guidance through its choices, the bank invited an external expert, the Belgian architect Jan Tanghe. Since the 1960s the latter had occupied an influential position on the Belgian architectural stage19 and had taken part in many debates concerning major urban development projects. In 1966 he co-founded Groep Planning, an architecture firm with which he constructed another banking institution in 1987, BACOB. In collaboration with Yves Lepère, Jan Tanghe suggested an analysis of the site and of the programme augmented by a preliminary strategy in terms of a establishment and volumetric analysis. His diagnosis was unequivocal: you do not copy a monument. He claimed that ‘any repetition or reproduction of this palace would destroy its intrinsic quality and its uniqueness’.20 Moreover, the first building could not tolerate any visible link with the new volume. They must both be autonomous and independent. Taking Jan Tanghe’s study as a starting point, the bank invited four architects to suggest alternatives to the Bunshaft plan: Groep Planning, Samyn & Partners, Yves Lepère and Storm Van Ranst. At that stage it was still considering the extension as a completely separate project in its own right. Jan Tanghe’s proposal was in the continuation of his analysis. He placed the extension at the back of the plot of land so as to maintain a courtyard between the two buildings and awkwardly linked them by the corners of their ground floors. On the side of the courtyard, the height of the extension’s cornice was aligned with the existing building, supporting its monumentality. On the street side, it was aligned with that of the houses facing it, showing them its consideration. The columns are to be found in four different models depending on whether they are ‘corner’, ‘facade’, ‘facade of the main courtyard’ or ‘interior’, making the structure the preeminent element of the building’s ex-

16 Note 01/183 of the Samyn & Partners office concerning the invitation to take part in the competition, 10 August 1987, p. 2.

20 Groep Planning and Bureau Yves Lepère Urbanistes in Analyse Urbanistique, June 1987, p. 3.

No one steps on the same river twice. orthodoxe

17 Emile Quevrin, minutes of the meeting of 22 April 1987 at the BBL headquarters, Avenue Marnix 24, Brussels, p. 3. 18 Letter from the property developer Bernheim-Outremer to Jan Tanghe, 13 March 1987, p. 2. 19 He was at the time the editor-in-chief of the magazine La Maison and co-founder of the non-profit organization which published the review A plus.


Stockyard with the unpolished concrete crosses manufactured by Decomo in Mouscron, April 1991. ING Belgium Collection


pression. The ensemble was envisaged in the same materials as Marnix I: architectural concrete, travertine and stainless steel. The courtyard was designed so as to ‘connect the specific elements of the two buildings in a single horizontal and unifying facade’.21 In fact, the design consisted solely in extending the seven spans of the Marnix towards the seven equivalent spans of its extension. The connections which Tanghe’s project establishes with Marnix I are weak, rhetorical or mimetic. They show that he has not grasped its essence. However, the monument is so emblematic that the extension plan could not be explicitly pitted against it, even if it was completely foreign to it. In its own postmodernism, the architect’s attitude was ensnared in a contradiction. It was obliged to celebrate an episode of history with which it does not identify. Thus the image which Jan Tanghe gave to his building is symptomatic of his relation with what Marnix represents, for him as much as for a whole generation of architects of this era. In the 1980s the architectural world in which Tanghe operated still had some scores to settle with modernism.22 It is certainly true, as we have seen, that the Marnix raises questions about its strict adherence to this movement. But despite its urban qualities, for some people23 it calls to mind other buildings which have irreparably destroyed the traditional Brussels fabric. During the same period, Philippe Samyn positioned his projects in an altogether different field of considerations and references. His proposal for the extension of the BBL was a plural one, a U-shaped composition established at the back of the site and aligned with the adjacent buildings. Its materiality, its base, the seven identical spans and the repetition of the bays immediately recall the Marnix. Mirrors embellish the facade with the intention of providing it with as much depth as Marnix I. From the centre of this composition emerges a volume completely foreign to the rest and which, according to the competition brochure produced by Samyn & Partners, aimed ‘to express Belgian participation in the European endeavour to

deploy advanced technologies for the opening of the borders in 1992’.24 Towards the rear, this volume takes the form of a large atrium and, towards the front, that of a curtain-wall which reflects the facade of the first building. The project thus compensates for the lack of expressiveness with which Bunshaft reproached the curtain-wall in the 1960s by the simple fact that it reflects the monumental facade of Marnix I. The ensemble is subject to what Philippe Samyn considers the ‘arithmetical esotericism’25 of the original – the number seven and the module of 1.40 m – and the whole of it wrapped in a smooth, reflective and transparent finish, all in glass, polished stone and stainless steel. As for the Brussimmo building which he completed in 1993 several blocks away, his proposal for Marnix II invested the people flow mechanisms, maintenance apparatuses and technologies with an aesthetic value. The structure of the atrium, the lateral elevator shafts, the cylindrical emergency stairways, the visible ventilation ducts and the footbridges which emerge from the building to enter the third floor of Marnix II proclaim themselves as new symbols. In that, his proposal situates itself in what one could consider as both another direction taken by postmodernism and an alternative path, sometimes considered as a late evolution of the International Style, identified by the high-tech label. When he responded to the competition, Philippe Samyn had neither deference nor disdain for what existed, be it the urban fabric or the modern monument, only a slightly concealed indifference. He was not looking to position himself within the history of architecture, no more than he wished to be a part of a specifically Brussels context. His ambition was more timeless and universal: ‘as an authentic engineer, he continued to believe in the universal constructor which all engineers secretly dream about, a constructor which would give rise to the form from the inventiveness of the construction and which discovers beauty in the canonical character of numbers.’26

21 Ibid. 22 This situation would persist for a long time yet, as the much later facelifts of the Brussels modernist towers demonstrate: the Midi Tower in 1994 followed several years later by the Madou Tower and the Finance Tower. 23 It was at this time that, spurred on by Maurice Culot, the Atelier de Recherche et d’Actions Urbaines (ARAU) developed the theories of ‘urban renovation’. Its architects reacted against a modernism which had left a legacy of dislocated fabric and incomplete blocks. Through their projects they set to work re-establishing the appeal of traditional urban fabric through its typical forms, which are the street, the square, the block which fit in idyllic and backwardlooking images of the city.

No one steps on the same river twice. orthodoxe

24 Competition brochure submitted by Samyn & Partners, 30 September 1987. 25 Ibid. 26

Bekaert, 1995, p. 190.


The differences between Jan Tanghe and Philippe Samyn’s projects almost mask the similarities. Both articulate their spatial proposition as much as their reasoning during the competition around the same architectural element: the atrium. In both cases it is justified in energy terms (it functions as a buffer space, making it easier to achieve a comfortable indoor climate) and by a social discourse (it creates a shared space which promotes casual encounters). But its recurrence in two proposals for an office building in the 1990s cannot only be understood in these terms. In the recent history of architecture, the atrium appears as a truism of postmodernism as it materializes itself in major hotel chains, the headquarters of multinationals, shopping centres, etc.27 In the course of these occurrences, the atrium has been supported by an energetic, social and market-oriented rhetoric, progressively turning into a symbol of big business. It is also and above all as such that it occurs in Jan Tanghe and Philippe Samyn’s proposals: as a symbol. Ultimately, what both proposals share more specifically perhaps is that they establish themselves above all as an image. Unfortunately for Philippe Samyn, at this time the BBL felt less the need for a new image than it felt the need to reassure itself in what it had inherited from the 1960s, and which did not seem outmoded. Following an examination of the four proposals, the BBL’s board of directors unofficially chose that of Philippe Samyn but decided to abandon the competition. It put forward arguments which were by turns aesthetic (Philippe Samyn’s project was too futuristic), functional (none of the projects proposed a satisfactory connection between Marnix I and Marnix II), economic (they had already paid for the 1974 project), and practical (the 1974 project having reached the permit stage, the deadlines would be shorter). Putting aside these arguments as much as the intrinsic qualities of the project, the coincidence of several factors might help explain this turnaround. The death of Baron Lambert and the growing recognition of Gordon Bunshaft might have acted as events favouring such an outcome. But above all, following the merger, the bank now had several decision-making bodies and two very different business cultures. 27 Frederic Jameson situates the emergence of the atrium in its postmodern version in the projects of the architect and property developer John C. Portman for the Hyatt hotel chain, the Westin Bonnaventura and the Peachtree Center. For him, the atriums are synonyms of ‘postmodern life’ in that they aspire to be a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city. For Lieven de Cauter, the atrium is paradigmatic of ‘capsular architecture’: ‘it no longer aims to bring air and light into a building (as in the Roman era). It positions itself as the simulation of the exterior inside a space sealed off from reality.’

Doubtless it was easier to bank on continuity rather than embark on a different path. At the time when the Lamberts had decided to build a new head office for their bank, they were expecting from the project that it would affirm their social status and embody the power of their business, firmly binding the image of their family and their company to an architectural object. In entrusting the project to Gordon Bunshaft rather than to Le Corbusier, they chose an architect who shared the same idealistic vision of capitalism and would be capable of materializing their ambition. Between the bourgeois family business of the late nineteenth century and the large American companies, heirs to Fordism, Leon Lambert developed the vision of a paternalistic bank which takes care of its employees in order to encourage their productivity and ensure their loyalty. Wideopen spaces generated a rich collegiality among workers and on every floor established a hierarchy which was more horizontal than vertical. To guarantee the company’s familial aspect, the baron also made sure that the management, himself included, was accessible and transparent. A generous ellipsoidal marble stairway linking the management floor to the penthouse thus permitted the high-level managers to literally knock on his door. But his ambition also took in the concrete materiality of the building. The combination of noble materials such as marble, travertine, teak and chrome, the furniture designed by Florence Knoll or chosen with the greatest of care, and the ubiquity of artworks helped convey an idea of luxury which highlights the employees and establishes the company’s prestige and seriousness. The greetings cards sent out by the bank in the 1960s – photographs of its empty interiors – bear witness to the pride felt by its occupants and the ability of its architecture to represent it. Leon Lambert’s apartment, located on the top floor of the building, confirms, if it were still necessary, the project’s symbolic dimension. While most of the bourgeoisie of the period took up residence in comfortable properties in the suburbs, the baron and his mother took the singular decision to remain in town, maintaining the representational functions of the former townhouse on the Marnix block. A high central gallery flaunts its onyx ceiling and leads the many visitors to sumptuous lounges, where business lunches would be taken at midday and grand society dinners in the evening. By pressing a button Leon Lambert could pivot a section of his library to enter his bedroom. In this space, with a view onto the town which extended beyond the Royal Palace and the Royal


Park, he would not compare unfavourably to the sophisticated and sensitive man for whom the American magazine Playboy had, within its pages, established the model apartment. His modern penthouse, whilst preserving a certain aristocratic dimension, distanced itself from an ageing conception of bourgeois domesticity and bolstered his image as a metropolitan man squarely facing the future. The esplanade which extends at the base of his edifice serves the company’s image just as much. On the one hand such a space is ‘an audacity which, in the heart of the city, becomes a luxury infinitely at once more real and more subtle than marble facades’,28 and which expressed the Lambert family’s generosity. On the other hand, the recess which it carefully creates between the avenue and the building almost turns the main facade into an advertising device. It would fulfil this function even better from the 2000s onwards, when it was literally transformed into an animated screen in which each window corresponds to a coloured pixel. In the 1960s, the facade’s expression needed to be able to guarantee all by itself the building’s spectacular dimension. For that reason, like Eero Saarinen, who at the time was looking to develop sensational forms, or Edward Durell Stone, who was working on the expressiveness of the surface, Gordon Bunshaft distanced himself from the hermeticism and elitism of the International Style to compose an architecture which the general public would be more likely to appreciate. With that aim in mind, he developed a vocabulary of forms originating in the history of architecture. The order of the facade, the repetition of the spans and the cornice formed by the recess on the top floor stem from his conception of the bank as a High Renaissance palace. The massive columns with monolithic shafts and abstract capitals – determining the gallery which encircles the ground floor – are so many figures which, drawing their meaning from architecture’s collective memory, are aesthetically more expressive and intellectually more accessible that the abstract forms of the International Style. But Marnix I is far from being solely turned towards the past. The arrangement of the inverted curtain-wall starting from crosses made of prefabricated architectural concrete, stainless steel ball-joints and glass magnify these industrial materials and give them a new meaning. Marnix I fully commandeers the meanings of a programme situated in its time, the questions which drove the debates about architecture in the 1960s, the 28 Brodzki, C.L. ‘A propos de la Banque Lambert’, Architecture no. 61 (November-December 1964), p. 729.

No one steps on the same river twice. orthodoxe

building possibilities offered by the recent developments in prefabrication. In that, it roots itself in its time on a social, cultural and technical level. In reproducing a project so firmly bound to its context, the BBL cut it off from its ability to mean anything. But above all, in not taking the competition seriously, it deliberately renounced offering an opportunity for architecture and the city to transform themselves.29 ‘As luck would have it’, contrary to Tanghe and Samyn’s proposals, Marnix I maintains an equivocal relationship with time. And, ‘as luck would have it’, as a copy, Marnix II inherits this historical density which gives it meaning.

29 At the same time, the Kredietbank (KBC) arranged a competition for the construction of its new head office along the canal. At the end of a process which was far more transparent than for the Banque Lambert extension, the proposals were published in the review A plus, where the jury’s arguments were analysed. The procedure which it initiated had the merit of raising urban and programmatic questions and of making them public, even if, in choosing the project of Michel Jaspers and the Atelier d’Art Urbain, the KBC did not perhaps make the most apt choice.

Workers lifting a section of the Marnix II in front of the Marnix I, June 1991. ING Belgium Collection


In 1958, when the construction of the Chase Manhattan Plaza had hardly begun, Gordon Bunshaft commissioned from Alberto Giacometti a monumental enlargement of his Three Men Walking with which to dress the future esplanade. The sculptor instead offered to produce a new ensemble of three sculptures for him, specifically designed for the site. Giacometti first made a series of studies in plaster of a very small size, representing a Man Walking, a Woman Standing and a Head on a Pedestal. On the basis of these miniatures, he produced several dozen plaster works of a larger size. But never satisfied with his work, he finally decided to abandon the project.

Giacometti himself destroyed the majority of these dozens of studies which he produced for this project. There only remain two copies of Walking Man, on a human scale, two copies of Head on a Pedestal at eye level, and four copies of Standing Woman, slightly larger than life. The four plaster figures of Standing Woman were each cast six times, raising to 24 the total number of copies in circulation on the art market. Baron Lambert acquired three of these women: Standing Woman I, Standing Woman II and Standing Woman III. In 1987, the year of his death, they were sold by Christie’s to private collectors. One of these sculptures subsequently passed from private collections in galleries to be finally bought for a record price of 27 million dollars at auction in 2008. Standing Woman is a heterogeneous work. It is formed of four times six material bodies and presents itself as the study of a project which was never completed. Its trajectory led it from the public place for which it had been designed, to the artist’s workshop, to an art gallery and as far as the private collections of a series of collectors. Over the course of these moves, an unalterable core of meanings – situated somewhere between archaic symbolism and modern abstraction – seems to have guaranteed its topicality.

books ADAMS, N. 2007. Skidmore, Owings and Merill, Milan: Electa Architecture BEKAERT, G. 1995. L’architecture en Belgique, Brussels: Editions Racine BEKAERT, G. 1986. Verzamelde opstellen. Deel 2: Los in de ruimte 19661970, Brussels: dbnl DE CAUTER, L. 2004.The Capsular Civilization: On the City in the Age of Fear, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers JAMESON, F. 1991. Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press KOOLHAAS, R. 1995. Atlanta, New York: Actar KRINSKY, C.H. 1988. Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merill, Cambridge: MIT Press SMETS, P-F. 2013. Lambert. Une aventure bancaire et financière, Brussels: Editions Racine contribution to a collective work DUBOIS, M. 1993. ‘L’alphabet de S.O.M.’ in Marnix. Un syntagme dans la ville, Brussels, BBL, p. 6 (album published on the occasion of the inauguration of the new wings of the BBL headquarters, 9 February 1993) VAN DE VOORDE, S. 2013. ‘Le développement du béton architectonique en Belgique. Du Foncolin au CBR’ in DENOEL J-F., ESPION, B., HELLEBOIS, A., PROVOST, M., Histoire du Béton Armé, Brussels: FEBELCEM & FABI articles in trade journals BRODSKY, C.L. ‘À propos de la Banque Lambert’, Architecture no. 61 November-December 1964 HOLL, S. 1995. ‘The Alphabetical City’, Pamphlet Architecture #5, New York: Princeton Architectural Press MUSCH, R. and REVIERS, K. 1989. ‘Addition ou finition ?’, A plus no. 105, April 1989 N.S. ‘Siège d’une Banque à Bruxelles’, Architecture no. 36, 1960 NOVGORODSKY, L. ‘Le nouveau siège central de la banque Lambert à Bruxelles’, La Technique des travaux, September-October 1962 NOVGORODSKY, L. ‘Le nouveau siège central de la banque Lambert à Bruxelles’, La Technique des travaux, March-April 1965 articles in the belgian daily press BOURTON, W. ‘Avec l’inauguration du Marnix II, la BBL gagne 51 000 m2 de bureaux. Le rêve parachevé du Baron Lambert’, Le Soir, 10 February 1993, p. 18 BOURTON, W. ‘Le béton frais d’aujourd’hui est le patrimoine de demain’, Le Soir, 24 March 1995, p. 22

COUVREUR, D. ‘Vingt ans après, la BBL achève’, Le Soir, 31 July 1989, p. 19 DEGAN, C. and BECHET, G. ‘L’art en Banque’, Le Soir, 18 April 2013, p. 1, 8 DELVAUX, B. ‘C’était au temps où la Banque Lambert brusselait’, Le Soir, 19 June 1992 DELVAUX, B. ‘Le dernier des Lambert Philippe, frère, fils et petit-fils de banquier’, Le Soir, 26 April 1996, p. 14 DUPLAT, G. ‘Oui, le béton peut être très poétique’, La Libre Belgique, 28 December 2011 EGGERICX, L. ‘Un palazzo moderne’, La Libre Belgique, 4 July 2003 LEDERER, E. ‘ING cultive l’art à tous les étages’, Le Soir, 16 July 2005, p.1 LO, P. ‘Lambert, une saga financière’, La Libre Belgique, 20 April 2013 MEUWISSEN, E. ‘Léon Lambert, banquier du Roi’, Le Soir, 16 August 1996, p. 10, 11 N.S. ‘Anecdotes, Quelqu’un m’a dit ...’, La Libre Belgique, 5 July 2013 articles in foreign weeklies ‘Architecture: Modern Medici’, Time Magazine, 13 August 1965 archival collections Archives of Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris, Correspondence with Baroness Lambert, March to April 1956 Archives of Modern Architecture (AAM), Brussels, Blaton Collection, Marnix I file Archives of the City of Brussels, Brussels, Marnix I and Marnix II urban-planning permit-application file Groep Planning Archives ING archives National Archives of Belgium, Brussels, Philippe Samyn Collection interviews Interview with Christian Dugardyn, Head of the BBL architecture department at the time of the competition, 4 May 2015 Interview with Étienne Pourbaix, Assistant architect at Blaton during the realization of Marnix I, 18 May 2015 Interview with Johan Van Rompaey, Assistant architect at Samyn & Partners during the realization of Marnix II, 9 May 2015

Founded in 2011, orthodoxe is an association of six architects—Julie De Bruyne, Pauline Fockedey, Pacôme Godinot, Jean-Sébastien de Harven, Deborah Levy, Antoine Wang— concentrating, both individually and together, on practising architecture in the area of design, cultural mediations and teaching.


SWIFT I & II. MODULES AND MOCK-UPS After building the first headquarters of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT I, 1983), Constantin Brodzki was asked to second Ricardo Bofill to design SWIFT II on the same plot of land on the outskirts of Brussels (1989).1 Bofill’s neoclassical drawings were thus translated by Brodzki into a system of precast concrete modules to be assembled on site, integrating lighting design, air conditioning and access floor for wiring. In SWIFT II, his life-long quest for design-and-build perfection is sublimated by the will to hide every joint between the building components, like in cabinet-making. Everything is designed and tested: the immaterial atrium, the corridors, the temperature in every office, even the ashtrays. From the first to the second SWIFT, indeed, office architecture is no longer intended as the matter of arranging desk units in an efficient configuration, but rather as the construction of an image to match the company’s international aura. The forced collaboration between the two strong personalities was mediated by a series of models and mock-ups on various scales that were built for two years in a warehouse on site, with the purpose of anticipating every aspect of the construction. In looking for traces of these models, Brodzki retrieved from his attic a series of pictures and slides, which he commented for the exhibition.

SWIFT I 1983 SWIFT, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication Headquarters Constantin Brodzki 13 500 m2

This is André Jacqmain’s Foncolin. It was he who used architectonic concrete in Belgium for the first time, by working with a Dutch firm, Schokbeton. That was in 1957. One year later, CBR told me that they were going to get into it. Here, in the Foncolin, there are window frames which open, and no air conditioning. Seven floors with a wonderful staircase in the middle which ran up in one flight of stairs … This building wasn’t functional. It was an architectural poem, but impossible to build once the fire safety regulations came into effect, especially after the Innovation fire in 1967. Having worked in the United States, I used the regulations of the New York fire brigade, where the rules are drastic. My building is a model in that respect, with double security doors everywhere. Jacqmain’s staircases were the first thing the fire brigade tore to shreds. Then he couldn’t add the air conditioning, so he decided to demolish it. He worked next door to where I lived; we saw each other when I returned home very late, because I loved to party, and he was still working, facing the window. Everyone could see him, he worked all the time. The Foncolin is a building that had to be torn down because nothing was useable. I liked it a lot. The materials chosen by Jules Wabbes were astounding. The floor was made of pebbles which came from a mountain stream in Italy, which were cut and polished … Everything was marvellous, but could no longer be used for anything.

SWIFT II 1989 SWIFT, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication Headquarters Ricardo Bofill, Constantin Brodzki 35 000 m2

1 Bofill was chosen after an invited competition against Richard Rogers, SRZ with Atelier de Genval, and Constantin Brodzki himself. Among others, the Belgian magazine A+ covered the two projects: SWIFT I in issue no. 97 (1987) and SWIFT II, more extensively, in no. 103 (1989).

All images courtesy of Constantin Brodzki

The neoclassical design of SWIFT II


constantin brodzki

Sophisticated cabinet-making

Once I’d graduated, I did my work placement on the UN construction site, in New York. The project had been entrusted to Wallace Harrison, married to a Rockefeller. And as Rockefeller had given the land to the UN … You can see that even New York is a village. I worked in a small building on the construction site, intended for the project team, a small department of 500 people — in the United States the departments could reach 5,000 people. It’s a work dimension which marked me for life. There were 50 or so architects per building, with the drafting room – where I was – the design department on the floor below – equipped with a model-making workshop where about 15 colleagues worked all the time. Each decision was checked by three model makers. They even made full-size models which we put outside to check the flow of rainwater. I did 5 years of studies in 6 months. The Americans are great because they start by telling themselves, ‘I don’t know’, and develop all the unknowns before the construction site, which becomes a simple formality, in other words the assembly site. In Europe, by contrast, everything takes place during the construction site. I picked up this American habit, which makes a construction site a stroll in the park, serving just to check if the initial point of view was the right one.

André Jacqmain’s Foncolin building (1958)

First meeting in Brodzki’s attic in search for documentation, 6 April 2017


For CBR I had to invent all the technique. There were already techniques for orthogonal prefabricated concrete modules, but for the curved modules there weren’t any. At the beginning we worked with polyester moulds, but we realized that it shrank a little. Then we moved onto epoxy, which was completely new. I also produced two test buildings before CBR, buildings they needed: in one of them we tested out the composition with curved elements, in the other with straight elements, to compare the techniques. I started working with a design student, because at that time I was a teacher, and we made plenty of models at 1:10 scale, but it didn’t work. He had ideas, whereas it was I who was supposed to have them. Then I came across the Constantinos, two Portuguese brothers who were plasterers from father to son, third generation. They carried out all the studies, from small-scale to real-size. They placed the epoxy on the wooden base, then the mould was cast horizontally, and then it went onto a shock table, so that the side visible face-down was perfect, without air bubbles. All of that was invented, it didn’t exist. If I made all my buildings in architectonic concrete it was because I had a client who told me to make concrete, because it was publicity for the manufacturer [CBR]. Afterwards, for SWIFT, I had a great technique, which I liked a lot, and which was my own. When you have spent four years developing it and you can apply it easily, you’d have to be a fool not to take advantage of it. All the more so as I still had my factory, a design office, and all the equipment.

CBR, typical office, 1970 Constantin Brodzki’s office at the time

Thanks to Bofill’s international aura and my prefabricated concrete technique, I was able to obtain from the client an 800 m2 test hall for two years. Here you can see a fragment of the model’s facade. It involved testing the constructional systems but also achieving a degree of precision capable of eliminating all the unforeseen turns of the construction site. We worked on several scales, that of the volumetry, that of the fragments and the components which fitted together and were superimposed on each other, that of the perception of space, that of the atmosphere, by producing office spaces on a 1:1 scale.

I used Bofill’s plans as a starting point and I only made changes to the sides of the modules and the tricks to assemble them. Bofill understood nothing about techniques. With these models there was no need for words; I had large-scale models made to be sure that we understood each other properly. In the end, I developed a formal language which wasn’t mine with a technological approach which belonged to me. It was a big experimental laboratory.

Alberto Constantino in the hangar, with models on various scales of SWIFT II


This is the model of SWIFT I, on a 1:1 scale. We had made the prototype and stuck a photo of a landscape on the window pane. All the air conditioning engineers put an air vent under the window pane, but I didn’t want to. Here the fresh air enters through the ceiling and then leaves via the lighting appliances. You know, my father-in-law was an air-conditioning pioneer in Belgium, and I had returned from the US with the first experiments with air-conditioned buildings. We learned nothing about that at school, neither do they today for that matter.

In principle the Constantinos had stopped working, but I brought back Alberto for SWIFT II. He took a big caravan and placed it next to the hangar in which we made these models. He was the key. With Constantino we were like a factory with a single worker. For CBR everything was curved, there was no precise way to draw the modules precisely, so he went up to the 1:1 scale. For SWIFT II there was no need to go as far as that because the modules were straight. Bofill thus turned up at a place where everything was ready. He used none of it, because he didn’t understand that it was miraculous. What he did in France, you could run your hand through his joints; nothing fit together right.

SWIFT I, mock-up of a typical office


We were in the hangar, 6 months before the start of the building site, with several architects and the client. We came up with a minor miracle in this office: a small counter-relief moulding which went around the room. There were cabinets on either side of the door, where the frieze continued across the 3 m width of the office. At the foot of this counter-relief around 5-6 cm high, set back by 1-2 cm, there was the decompression chamber of the air supply duct. So you couldn’t see it. The appliance which blew out was in the ceiling of the corridor. The recirculation was hidden behind the TL tubes. It was the only place in the world where you didn’t see either the discharge grill or the recirculation grill. Not only could you not see them here, we also obtained a delta value of 0.5°C between the hottest and the coldest point in the office.

My concept of an office building is always to begin from the inside, with a person sitting at his desk. I develop the space around him, then I consider the corridors, then the conditioning, and at the same time I construct the facade. Bofill worked the other way around. For 90 per cent of the time he worked on the facades; he was the master of effect. Me, I developed everything from the inside: the insulation, the air conditioning, the sound-proofing, the cupola lighting, the system of dividing-wall mobility, the rhythm – everything that was functional, that was me. He had never made offices; me, I didn’t bother him in all his forms. I just hid the joints between the modules. I was a deluxe underling. Knowing that he was a poet, they paired me up with him to be sure that the building was well built.

SWIFT II, mock-up of a typical office

SWIFT II, completed offices awaiting occupation


When I went to see Bofill to explain what conditioning was, he said that all the same it was necessary to be able to open a window. So I picked up a pile of papers and I threw it in the air and told him this is what happens when you open a window in a conditioned building. Him, he terrorised everybody, but even his air-conditioning advisor told him that it was absolutely true. Opening a window causes everything, the pressure and the temperature, to malfunction, so there can’t be windows. Me, I loved that, because I didn’t want to have in my concrete more than a single pane of glass. No window frame. The glass directly in contact with the concrete. You know where I saw that for the first time? When I visited the castle of Ludwig II of Bavaria, fake Gothic. He had placed glass between its small stone columns. As a building it was a bit crazy, but in the middle of winter you could walk around in shorts. So I applied what I saw in this castle in all my concrete buildings.

Here you can see several fragments of SWIFT II. They are tests to inspect the aesthetics, so that Bofill could choose. It was all the same to me. Once a choice had been made I adapted the air conditioning, etc. Bofill had no awareness of how prefabricated concrete modules were put together. I had fun hiding all the joints, like the work of a cabinetmaker. All the old furnitures, that’s how it is: the joints are hidden in the mouldings. It’s exactly the same principle, with a double facade to provide good insulation. Inside it was really easy to hide the joints, but on the outside, with all these elements which were touching each other, it took me a long time to hide them. This was my indulgence, for myself, because nobody sees the effort. I had a team, we made models, trials, then I sent the plans to the factory. The column was of a single piece. The tympanum was made of three or four elements, whose joints were hidden by the mouldings. I had Bofill’s drawing to follow, while making it so that the mouldings could be stripped away. I had nothing else to do but look for perfection.

Each problem needs to be individualized. Here I had a mock-up built to show the client and Bofill a standard corridor and to assess its lighting. I had a client who made everything I asked, because it was logical. Today, a building is an assembly of manufacturers’ proposals, you no longer have any freedom. You draw up plans, you put them forward for invitations to tender and then you have to start over from the beginning. For me, everything should be settled in advance. The ideal would be to first of all appoint the whole team, to build the project with them, while managing them. Note that in a car factory that is how it is done. In America, or in any case for the UN build-

SWIFT II, models of various mouldings to help Bofill’s design

SWIFT II, mock-up of an alley


ing on which I worked, everybody was designated in advance: we knew who was making the window frames, the conditioning, etc. And everyone sent their draughtsmen, they worked together, they could communicate with each other when there was a problem. So you get a tip-top building. That is Swift I, the detail of the angle. The lighting here is completely normal, apart from that you got to it through the flooring of the floor above, for easier maintenance. Bofill wanted indirect lighting for SWIFT II, a kind of bowl which shone upwards. I started from the criterion that you could see nothing of the technologies, both for the lighting and the conditioning, in aligning myself with the window he had made. He was lost, because all those things were unknown to him.

Here the water descents are in the angle, but I didn’t put any pipes in; the water ran freely in the hollows between the two facades. When there is a massive downpour, the water flows into this bowl which collects it.

SWIFT I, light well

SWIFT I, office in the corner of the building


To continue this reasoning I made a pond linked to the central well, whose walls served to ventilate the air conditioning. So the water flowed through the cracks, it was quite a show. In the US they love to hierarchize things. I thrived on this way of working.

The holes in the flooring elements were not made to make the structure lighter, but to let the ducts through. In making several I gave the heating specialist more choice. Above the floor we placed the entire electrical and computing network. It’s absurd to put everything in the suspended ceiling, because the partitions never touch the hard, so there is no noise barrier.

I took a trip to the United States with the idea of seeing all of Philip Johnson’s buildings. When I met him he was very old. I said to him, ‘I have nothing too say to you, except my admiration.’ He signed this book for me. You know this American crook, Madoff? He had an office in there. Johnson linked everything to the past, which I like, and he is not a dogmatic lover of modernism.

SWIFT II, assemblage of the precast concrete modules

Brodzki pointing at Philip Johnson’s Lipstick Building in New York, 1986


BRUSSIMMO & SAPPHIRE. TECHNICAL QUEST In October 1999 André Jacqmain was invited to give a lecture at the Fondation pour l’architecture (CIVA) in the context of the exhibition The Century of the Office, 1900-2000. At a ‘critical intermission’ in the lecture he stated: What is, basically, the ‘century of the office’? It’s the TECHNICAL CONQUEST. What do you think, Philippe Samyn? You could say in my place – and in another way – what I am about to stress. You’d say so with numbers. You would prove it down to the last detail. Technology has an objective: to do it better and to do it more easily. For thousands of years, humankind has been seeking improvement. The result: people today feel better in their office than 50 years ago! In today’s offices we can see clearly, it’s neither too hot nor too cold, there is no more dust, the noise of all the writing machines has gone, replaced by soothing ambient music. There are no more shorthand slaves, machines do the work for us! We observe that progress developed for the office space helps to improve the techniques that will later be used in housing. I’ve lived through 40 years of progress, from Foncolin to the recently completed Joseph II. I’ve lived through them without really noticing them, one evolutionary step at a time. It might be good to look at the past of progress, to

stimulate the pleasure of imagining the future of progress. It is obvious that we spend our time placing facades in the city, but on this occasion, we also try to add the best techniques within and behind these facades.1 Five years later, at the entrance of his own retrospective at CIVA, Jacqmain would exhibit the model of the Sapphire building (2003), a glazed building with gothic accents built in place of his legendary Foncolin (1958). Designed with Jules Wabbes, it had been the first building in Belgium to use modular units in precast concrete. But according to his study, this landmark of post-war architecture was impossible to renovate for many technical reasons, from air conditioning to fire safety. To tackle the role of technology in the design of office buildings, Accattone has asked Philippe Samyn to take up Jacqmain’s invitation and carry it out through an analysis of his own projects: the Brussimmo (1993), located as the Foncolin-Sapphire on a corner in the Leopold Quarter ; the Belfius Tower (2005), which replaced the Martini Tower, also impossible to renovate; and his recently-completed Europa building for the Council of Europe (2016). Samyn is renowned for his obsession with maintenance, technology and mathematics. He is described by Geert Bekaert as an architect who “believes in the myth of the universal builder, who lets form spring out of the inventiveness of construction and who finds beauty in the canonical character of numbers.”2 His conversations with Accattone on the role of industrial manufacturers, technological innovation and obsolescence, norms and bad habits have been resumed in nine paragraphs illustrated by his projects.

1 André Jacqmain, ‘Les copains d’abord’ (Friends first), 25 Oct. 1999, speech conserved at the AAM, p. 13. 2 Geert Bekaert, Contemporary Architecture in Belgium (Tielt: Lannoo, 1995), p. 190.

Twisted pairs In 1988 Samyn refurbished the Olivetti offices located in the Madou Tower. The thin existing screed did not enable the placement of the usual interconnectivity system of coaxial cables and optical fibres, whose standard was set by IBM. One day he read a short news item in the Architectural Journal stating that AT&T and British Olivetti had just developed a new copper alloy to produce twisted pairs to link computers, a much thinner technology still in use today. He seized the opportunity and had the first office space equipped with this new technology, which is now ubiquitous.

All documents and photographs courtesy of Samyn & Partners

Europa building, cleaning system for the top half of the lantern, 2017. Rendering Cox Gomyl


Low-voltage wiring Cables in false floors are the ghosts of office buildings. Every tenant leaves them in place after their company has moved, so that in a 40 cm-high space, kilometres of old and new wires weigh up to 150 kg/ m2. A reflection on this absurdity is much needed. ‘You have to realize that houses started being equipped with 220V power after World War I, only a century ago!’ Samyn goes on to explain that in office buildings the demand rose quickly, to the point that every building has its own high-voltage transformer station, a 220V system in the ceiling for lights and one in the floor for power outlets. With the low-voltage revolution of the 1990s and the higher demand in computer networks, a third system was added: an enormous amount of copper everywhere. ‘When LED lamps were developed in the last decade, low-voltage started being more and more used for lighting. But without a proper 48V system throughout the building there is a 220-12V transformer inside every appliance, from LED to chargers to desktop computers. Can you imagine the sheer number of transformers in use in a typical office space? What a stupid waste.’ Samyn intends to provide office buildings with a low-voltage system and to convince manufacturers to remove the transformers from their appliances, for a cheaper price. You would just need 220V for copy machines, coffee makers and hoovers. ‘You could reduce by 33 per cent the number of kilometres of copper cables in an office building just by saying, “Let’s do it”. But except for three buildings recently built by Philips in the Netherlands, no one does.’ Confronted with the idea of inventing coffee makers that run on 48V voltage and of getting rid of all 220V system in favour of a full, low-voltage interconnectivity, the architect and engineer immediately warns about the drawback, the risk of overheating and fire safety: ‘Students forget this as soon as they enter architecture schools, but everyone should know from secondary school that if you lower the voltage you need more current, and by doing so you increase the heat since P = RI2.’

The industry Of all the Brussels architects and their positions within the discipline’s multiple dimensions, Philippe Samyn best represents those that expand the architect’s reach to engineering and the building industry. He cannot be content with choosing what is in the manufacturers’ catalogues; if a product does not exist or does not fit the project, he talks directly to industrialists to have it produced. Private commissions or design and build procurements for public buildings allow for such exchanges, where the architects’ demand for higher quality materials can be negotiated within the manufacturer’s certainty of getting the contract. For instance, to obtain extra-clear glass instead of the usual greenish float glass. The price can remain low and the product can be adapted to the specificity of the project, including its environmental performance. Moreover, this method circumvents the power of general contractors, reversing the ‘chain of command’ at work in the market: from materials to the adequate artisans and subcontractors. In the global market, Samyn does not resign himself to local products. ‘My shopping market is the world, not Europe.’ The Chinese market has opened up many possibilities which, he thinks, could lead to a possible ‘renaissance’ for architecture after the crisis, bringing a ‘democracy of construction’ to Europe. Even environmental costs could be lower, as long-distance maritime shipping has a lower impact on the planet than trucks on a highway. ‘From the art of building, architecture has become the art of transporting.’

Brussimmo, the technical roof, 1993. Photo Ch. Bastin, J. Evrard


Light In his latest book, published by the Royal Academy of Belgium (of which he is member), Samyn undertakes a short analysis of the evolution of artificial lighting in the building industry, ‘From Candles to LEDs’,1 unwillingly echoing André Jacqmain’s lecture where he recalls the gas lamps. Samyn explains it with numbers, namely light temperature and CRI (colour rendering index). He condemns the norms, too blind to prescribe the quantities of lux in the living and working areas, but nor their quality. Conversely, he praises natural light as the best possible solution for the workplace. ‘In this office with extra-clear glass we have a colour rendering of 99.9 per cent. I just cannot change the sky.’

Double skin ‘Beyond my quest for natural light and transparency, since 1987 the search for the best energy performance has led me towards large glazed facades whose depth is either achieved by external features or a double skin, as appropriate.’2 He refers to the Brussimmo building as his first construction using a double skin, after three unbuilt projects for the tertiary industry in Brussels: the competition for Marnix II, the extension of the Solvay Research Centre, and the Euroclear Operation Centre.

1 Philippe Samyn, Between Light and Shade. Transparency and Reflection (Brussels: Académie Royale de Belgique, 2017), pp. 81-87. 2

Brussimmo, stairs inside the double skin, 1993. Photo Ch. Bastin, J. Evrard

Ibid, p. 51.

Europa building, inside the double skin, 2016. Photo Marie-Françoise Plissart


Belfius Tower, the sloped roof, 2006. Photo Georges De Kinder

Europa building, photovoltaic umbrella on top of the building, 2016. Photo Marie-Franรงoise Plissart


Nippon Sheet Glass Samyn proudly shows a sample of Nippon Sheet Glass ‘Spacia’, first generation, that he had ordered from Japan as early as 1998. It is made of two thin layers (3 mm) of extra clear glass with a vacuum between the two (0.3 mm), kept separate by a grid of almost invisible stainless-steel columns, one every 20 mm. It provides an incredible level of thermal insulation, better than triple glazing.3 Its thinness of 6.5 mm offers a huge potential to reduce the size of window frames, or to fit existing frames in listed buildings. Most importantly, the perimetral joint is made with the highly recyclable ceramic sinter instead of the standard aluminium and silicon profile that fills entire containers of waste from the building industry. This technological evidence, not larger than an A4 sheet, is stamped with the office’s ubiquitous classification system (inventoried 4 November 1998) and exhibited in the reception area at Samyn & Partners. The sample seems both a promise and a warning: 20 years later, this material is still not available in European countries, despite Samyn’s struggle to persuade the managers of the glass industry that this kind of glass was revolutionary. ‘Glaverbel president [now AGC Glass Europe] burst out laughing when I showed him this sample: “It’s all you, Samyn!”, he told me. Only now are all the glass manufacturers looking into it.’

3 In the latest developments, the heat transfer coefficient U reaches up to 0.3 W/m 2K. Ibid, p. 36-38.

Industrial obsolescence The fact that the revolutionary Spacia glass was invented 20 years ago but is still underdeveloped in Europe is a serious issue. Why should an architect want a costly triple-glazing solution, with heavy frames, while only a few years later a much better product could be used? Shouldn’t he or she opt for a cheaper, replaceable solution now, saving money to install the new product when it is finally available? This conundrum is due to the fact that the commercialization of innovative solutions for the building industry occurs 20 to 30 years after their invention. ‘We are in a period of increasingly profound technological breaks. Certainties are gone. The best way to ruin yourself is to build with today’s technology. That is certain. In our new buildings we must find ways to let the old technology die gently.’ For a current project of an office building for the public administration, Samyn is avoiding as much as possible the use of double glazing. Invented in 1917, its life cycle as a product is almost over. So every component will be removable, ultra-low cost, ready to be reused for something else, ‘because whatever you could possibly buy today will be outdated in the next 20 years. So I only use public money to buy basic elements which will last longer.’ Simple glazing, for instance, which is cheaper than double glazing as well as more sustainable and more resistant to commercial decay.


Model for the extension of the Solvay Research Centre, 1989. Steel structure and maintenance machinery. Photo Jacques Bauters

Nippon Sheet Glass ‘Spacia’ sample at Samyn & Partners, 1998. Photo André Charon


Bad habits The Brussimmo building in the Leopold Quarter responded to Samyn’s interest in steel construction, whose integrated calculation he had studied at MIT in 1971, instead of the all-too-common reinforced concrete. ‘Civil engineering in Belgium was all about concrete, which made quite a reputation abroad, while the design calculation of steel constructions was ridiculously shallow, totally outdated by comparison with the ones I had brought back from MIT.’ By 1985 he had also abandoned bricks, which after the oil crisis of the 1970s were no longer produced with the mechanical resistance of the heyday (‘It is evident that rammed earth construction has a future in Belgium, but no one uses it and still today they keep on baking bricks’). Mostly, he did not want to make an office building look like the housing blocks of the surroundings, nor like the more recent office buildings imitating the housing blocks with a stone cladding over a concrete structure. ‘As an office building it’s a machine. It shouldn’t look like a house.’ Timber, steel and glass thus became his favourite materials, in a country largely unprepared for these technologies.

Brussimmo 1993 ARBED-SIDMAR Offices for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the European Committee of the Regions Samyn & Partners 10 900 m2

Sapphire 2003 CODIC, Ducroire Office building for Belgian Foreign Trade Agency (BFTA), Credendo Group André Jacqmain / Atelier d’Architecture de Genval 8 500 m2

After the machine The more recent Belfius Tower and Europa projects also proceed from this idea: technical quest and man-machine interaction. What is functional reaches beauty by pursuing an extreme: the thinnest steel structure, the fastest elevator, the most intelligible fluids circulation system, the easiest maintenance. But another vein emerges from Samyn’s discourse, closer to the atavistic culture of architecture: Göbekli Tepe twisted together with The Vertical City.4 ‘The best client is the one who just wants to respect laws, because there is little to be done with the one who also asks to respect standards. Norms are not laws, norms don’t have to be observed.’ Architecture is imprisoned by its societal customs. Non-conformism is a fierce weapon against architecture’s most obscurantist dimensions. ‘Let’s live more logically’, he claims. Besides the lighting standards for office spaces, Samyn cites air conditioning. ‘In our offices, people feel good without it; when it’s hot, we open the window. It is legal, but not in accordance with the norms. Whereas a lot of people live and work like tinned sardines with a snorkel, because you cannot open the windows.’ Norms could start by accepting a pullover in winter and lighter clothes in summer, instead of an artificially maintained, constant temperature that is needed to wear a suit 365 days a year. Norms follow bad habits, in a vicious circle of causal relations. Since the introduction of reinforced concrete, buildings have become very stiff, especially since World War II. ‘No timber floor has the rigidity of concrete floors. They are flexible and can be enjoyed for ages. But it’s not conform. After the first oil crisis, a norm was created to rule over fissured brick walls, because all new bricks were floppy and mortar stiff. They had to legalize the fissure.’

4 Göbekli Tepe is the most ancient monumental site ever discovered, dating back to the tenth millennium BCE, before domestication. The Vertical City contains Samyn’s theoretical exploration of the tower as a possible solution to keep the global costs of urban activity low (Brussels: Académie Royale de Belgique, 2014).


Model of the Belfius Tower, preliminary design, 2000. Photo Andres Fernandez


BELFIUS TOWER & CENTRAL PLAZA. DEMOLITION RECONSTRUCTION The Belfius Tower on Place Rogier (2006, formerly Dexia) and the Central Plaza next to Brussels Central Station are two tower buildings designed not only by architects, but also by Mayor François-Xavier de Donnea’s ‘Balcony Syndrome’, or the idea that no new high-rise should be seen from the balcony of his office on the Grand-Place. Samyn and Jaspers’ Belfius Tower could finally be built without losing too many floors with regard to the building it replaced, Jacques Cuisinier’s Martini Tower (1958), but the latest negotiations to keep the tower low removed the possibility of building a public museum on the tower’s top nine floors. As Jean-Michel Jaspers explains, the citizens’ distaste for tower buildings is due to the fact that they are inaccessible: the Martini Tower, probably because of its mixed use of theatres and cinemas, was the only tower in Brussels that exerted some fascination. Montois and Art & Build’s Central Tower, built on the site of the Westbury Tower (1962), was cut by the public authorities from 23 to 14 floors, in exchange of a larger base to attain the expected usable volume. Its position uphill from the Grand-Place was fatal to the initial project, to the point that it was renamed Central Plaza. Today, both buildings remain quite hermetic in terms of public space, but their long trajectory of planning commissions and building permits stirred public opinion, as Cédric Libert’s contribution shows. It encouraged architects and politicians to adopt a position towards the post-war architecture that was to be razed and, especially, towards the appropriateness to build towers again. As some architects reacted with counter-projects, like 51N4E’s ‘La Théorie du Balcon’ (2004), a first new high-rise of 140 metres, UP-site, was built for Atenor along the Canal in 2014 by A2RC and Ateliers Lion.

Belfius Tower 2006 Dexia bank, now Belfius Haedquarters Samyn & Partners, Jaspers– Eyers & Partners 120 000 m2

cédric libert

Martini Lotto

Central Plaza 2006 Immobel, AG Real Estate Office building for various tenants Art & Build, Montois & Partners 28 500 m2

La tour Rogier gonflée à l’hélium, Le Soir 29/03/2001, ‘Un énorme ballon dominera bientôt la tour Rogier ! Pas pour faire de la pub géante, mais afin de simuler l’impact de la surélevation sur l’environnement bruxellois’


The late 1990s saw an unexpected debate crystallize in Brussels around the announced destruction of two iconic objects from the 1950s and 1960s: the Rogier Tower (commonly known as the Martini Tower) and the Westbury Tower (better known as the Lotto Tower). In reaction to the prevarication of political decision-makers and of investors, in the face of a bizarre saga whose reversals had become a daily occurrence, alarmed by the risk of a destruction leading to an urbanistic void, but also realizing that the historical error that was fatal to Victor Horta’s Maison du Peuple could repeat itself: the popular reaction took the form of a spontaneous presence at the public gatherings, accompanied by a presence in the media that would gradually build itself up. Initiated by a scattered group of young architects and academics (several of which would end up composing the Disturb collective), this debate enabled the launch of a comprehensive critical exercise whose effects would in time have multiple ramifications: political invective and cultural actions, theoretical essays and polemical cartes blanches, as well as a good many improvised debates and public discussions that would undeniably alter the future of Brussels. Conceived with the collaboration and complicity of other community associations – among which Cinema Nova, CityMine(d), Architecture en Scène, Recyclart, Studio Open City and BNA/BBOT – a series of public cultural events would see the day: the PleinOpenAir film evenings, the IBAI conferences, the Place Flagey competition, the En Brik report, etc. Events that would involve a large number of Brussels residents in the debate or that would at least make them aware of the stakes that shape their daily environment. In that sense, they can be seen as a continuation of the actions undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s by other civic-minded or academic organizations (ARAU,

AMO, montage of Mayor de Donnea’s laser beam razing the towers around the Grand-Place. From the booklet Brussels. Capital of Europe, 2003, pp. 64-65.

AAM or SintLukasArchief – the subject of the exhibition opposite this one: Unbuilt #1). However, the very object of the reflection, the raison d’ être of the actions that were being undertaken and the objectives that were set, demonstrate a very different relation to the history of architecture and of cities, as well as to the future of the capital of Europe in the context of the rapidly approaching twenty-first century. The new activists in turn raised the question of tall buildings (should they really be razed?), suggested re-evaluating a modern period generally assimilated with the term ‘Brusselization’ (did this period not, after all, offer a vision for the future?), undertook a reflection on the complexity of contemporary cities and, lastly, underlying all these subjects, supported the idea that contemporary architecture of quality is possible. This was a noteworthy paradigm shift around the notion of arrangement of the elements that make up the city. For the preceding generation, the urban chaos of Brussels was a problem that had to be solved by solutions that favoured a return to the order of the nineteenth century, while for the next generation, it was rather a question of taking advantage of the city’s instability to activate its contemporary resources. At bottom, what the former saw as an aberration represented an opportunity for the latter: urban chaos as a potential quality as opposed to urban chaos as the source of all that is wrong with the city. Even though the Martini and Lotto towers were ultimately razed, the space for discussion opened up by this critical reaction made it possible to generate and develop a debate and reflection on the evolution of the city and its architecture. A look back at this period in ten press articles, published between 25 September 1996 and 18 August 2011 by Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, De Standaard, Trends Tendances and A+.


Le Soir 25/09/1996

Le Soir 12/06/1998

Le Soir 09/08/2000

Le Soir 07/09/1998

Le Soir 21/11/2001

Le Soir 16/03/1999

Le Soir 06/08/1999

43 Dans une société qui ne réagit plus qu’à travers les images et l’émotion véhiculées par les médias, il est plus simple de trouver un bouc émissaire que d’instaurer un vrai débat. Avant de démolir un bâtiment, ou de déprécier une forme parce qu’elle est « politiquement incorrecte », réfléchissons à l’opportunité qu’elle nous offre. Les tours, « belles ou laides », font partie de la ville. On ne peut les dénigrer à prioris, car elles existent et existeront encore. Ce sont des repères qui rythment les portes de la ville sur la petite ceinture. Ce sont des constructions qui permettent d’engendrer densité et mixité. Elles créent des points de vue sur la ville. A New York, le public accède souvent au sommet des gratte-ciels, pour embrasser la ville d’un coup d’œil. Pourquoi ne pas favoriser la création de panoramas, de bars ou de restaurants en hauteur au centre ville ? Ce serait un moyen d’apprécier ce chaos urbain fait de ruptures, ce paysage éclectique qui caractérise Bruxelles et lui donne son charme. Une formidable source d’inspiration pour les architectes et les urbanistes contemporains. Dans sa grande croisade anti-gratte-ciel, nous invitons M. de Donnea à visiter le site On y trouve les constructions hautes du monde entier. Au milieu des tours : le palais de justice de Bruxelles, avec 104 mètres de haut, qui peut être considéré comme un " gratte-ciel " dans le skyline du pentagone bruxellois. Afin de rectifier cette erreur du XIXe siècle qui est à la base de la démolition de nombreux quartiers populaires des Marolles, nous invitons notre Ministre-Président, à diriger son bulldozer vers la Place Poelaert... (‘Tours bruxelloises : boucs émissaires de l’urbanisme’, extrait, La Libre Belgique, 01/2003) réseau disturb ( Antoine Crahay, géographe, DES environnement – Laurence Creyf, architecte – Filiep De Corte, ingénieur architecte, urbaniste – Christophe Mercier, architecte – Maurizio Cohen, architecte

LA TOUR LOTTO DÉTRUITE ILLÉGALEMENT 18/08/11 à 11:58 – Mise à jour à 11:58 Source: Trends-Tendances C’est un de ces immeubles de bureaux emblématiques du centre-ville de Bruxelles. Construite en 1960, d’aspect quelconque, la tour Lotto est la première à faire l’objet d’un projet de décapitation. D’après la légende, François-Xavier de Donnea, bourgmestre de la Ville de Bruxelles entre 1995 et 2000, souffre du “syndrome du balcon”. Sa marotte : aucun édifice ne peut dépasser depuis la vue du balcon de l’hôtel de ville. Détruite en 2003, la tour Lotto (23 étages) a donc été remplacée par le Central Plaza, un immeuble de 14 étages accueillant notamment des bureaux de Fortis. Problème : suite à un recours introduit à l’époque par un voisin mécontent, la destruction de la tour Lotto ainsi que la reconstruction du nouvel édifice ont été déclarées illégales. Le 13 juillet dernier, le Conseil d’Etat a annulé purement et simplement le permis d’urbanisme autorisant ces travaux, en raison d’une “erreur fondamentale” entachant la réalisation de l’étude d’incidences. Pour schématiser, cette étude, censée mesurer les impacts d’un projet urbanistique sur le quartier, s’est basée sur des éléments incorrects, ce qui a vicié toute la procédure. Que faire maintenant ? Va-t-on raser le Central Plaza pour reconstruire une tour Lotto vintage ? Non, forcément. Le maître d’ouvrage, la SA Egimo, devra réintroduire, à ses frais, une demande de permis d’urbanisme afin de régulariser l’immeuble actuel. En respectant, cette fois, les prescrits légaux.


EUROPEAN QUARTER & MINI-EUROPE. GENEALOGY OF A TRAUMA At the same time that the theme park Mini-Europe was being built in the vicinity of the Atomium in 1989, developers, public authorities and architects were coming together to build office spaces for the European Parliament, leading to the official appointment of Brussels as the Capital of Europe in 1992. In the meantime, the Commission left the iconic Berlaymont for a long renovation (1991-2004), moving its quarters to Jacques Cuisinier’s Charlemagne building renovated by Helmut Jahn and Henri Montois & Partners in 1998. The third pillar of the EU, the macroscopic Justus Lipsius, all cladded in pink granite, was completed for the Council of Europe in 1995, spreading downhill towards the Parliament. New buildings have been added ever since, playing some sort of musical chairs, following the growth of the European Union from 12 to 28 member states. Commissioned to study the image of the European institutions and in particular their relation with the city, Rem Koolhaas gave a spectacular lecture at Bozar on 30 May 2003, ‘La Prise de l’Europe’. The lecture, reconstituted through the original slides and commented by Freek Persyn from the perspective of today, moves between the ironic and the sarcastic, bridging the European district with Mini-Europe’s scattered urbanism; the multifaceted identity of Europeans with Brussels’ own fragmentation; the ‘genealogy of the trauma’ of modernist Brussels with Léon Krier and Maurice Culot’s Déclaration de Bruxelles (1980); the psychosis of the Tower under de Donnea’s governance with the lack of identity of the European buildings and institutions.

rem koolhaas

La prise de l’Europe

Slides from Rem Koolhaas’s lecture ‘La Prise de l’Europe’, Bozar, Brussels, 30 May 2003. Also printed in the related booklet Brussels. Capital of Europe. Courtesy of OMA/AMO.


Brussels1_updated links.indd 20-21

11/11/2008 4:49:39 PM




‘L’avvocato del diavolo’, first published in the student magazine Utopica no. 0 (Venice: IUAV, 1986), pp. 14-21

49 AG Fortis 2003 AG Fortis Headquarters Michael Graves, Michel Jaspers & Partners (Jaspers–Eyers), Atelier d’Art Urbain (Vizzion) 48 000 m2 KBC Headquarters 1994 Banque KBC Headquarters Michel Jaspers & Partners (Jaspers–Eyers), Atelier d’Art Urbain (Vizzion) 102 000 m2

AG Rue Pont Neuf 1994 AG Regional offices for AG insurances, housing and retail ATLANTE (coordination), André et Jean Polak (office building); Gabriele Tagliaventi (lot 1); Atelier 55 (lot2); Sylvie Assassin, Barthélémy Dumons, Philippe Gisclard, Nathalie Prat (lot 3); Jean-Philippe Garric, Valérie Nègre (lot 4); Javier Cenicacelaya, Iñigo Saloña (lot 5); Liam O’Connor, John Robins (lot 6); Joseph Altuna, Marie-Laure Petit (lot 7)

KBC & AG. DEVELOPING THE EUROPEAN CITY With the creation of the Brussels-Capital Region in 1989, many of the claims and ideas brought up by the architects of the urban struggles – the AAM, ARAU, Sint-Lukasarchief, La Cambre – percolated in the city administration. Their projects and counter-projects, though, had never been confronted with the perspective of being built for real. If some, like Léon Krier, held on to the refusal to build as the only possible attitude for an engaged architect, others took the opposite position and got involved with smaller and larger projects at the intersection of architecture and urban design. Sefik Birkiye and his Atelier d’Art Urbain is one of the most interesting figures of this transition. The golden boy at La Cambre for his extraordinary drawing skills, he entered Maurice Culot’s circle while developing his own practice. After a first collaboration with Michel Jaspers on the Radisson Blu Hotel (1989), they jointly won the competition for the KBC headquarters on a dismissed industrial area along the Canal, distant from, but in direct confrontation with, the monofunctional Northern Quarter office district. The monumental KBC I (1994) was acclaimed as a masterpiece of ‘idealist realism’ in its balancing of the contemporary needs of a large corporation, Culot’s and Krier’s ideas for Reconstruction of the European City and a ‘contemporary language inspired by the past’. Two other buildings by the same architects and for the same client followed in 1998 and 2002, expressing several variations on the themes of the facade, the atrium and the city block. Even more, a long pencil drawing made by Atelier d’Art Urbain displays an idyllic redevelopment of the whole canal front of Molenbeek, part of which has been realized.


AG Fortis headquarters on Boulevard Jacqmain, 2003. Courtesy of Vizzion


Although architectural styles and sensitivities have changed, this development logic still seems to be at work today. Next to the new Tour & Taxis district, a recent housing competition won by Office KGDVS and Nicolas Firket plans the demolition of the Green Island office building, only completed in 1998. On the other side of the Canal, next to the massive Citroën building which will soon be refurbished as an international cultural centre for the CIVA Foundation and a satellite of the Centre Pompidou, the Canal Wharf housing scheme by AG Real Estate and Vooruitzicht is being planned with the help of Stéphane Beel, 51N4E and Architectes Associés. International and local architects work at the service of real estate in many configurations. The Fortis AG headquarters, along Boulevard Jacqmain next to Place De Brouckère, was built by Jaspers and Birkiye but ‘dressed’ by Michael Graves (1998). Nearby, in Rue du Pont Neuf, the same company had converted an entire city block into hidden office space, demolishing the first office tower built in central Brussels. The new building by the Polak brothers indeed looks like a traditional, five-storey housing block, while the office surface has been doubled. To compensate for this rise, AG devolved a strip along Rue de Laeken to build housing and small retail in the spirit of the Reconstruction of the European City. Seven young architects were appointed after an international competition organized by the Fondation

AG Fortis headquarters on Boulevard Jacqmain, 2003. Courtesy of Vizzion


Sefik Birkiye, Tribute to Léon Krier, René Pechère and Caspar David Friedrich, improvised sketch from the interview with Accattone, 23 May 2017


pour l’architecture. Prince Charles saluted the operation as ‘a new and more humane age of European urbanism’ after the ‘dogma of the Modern Movement.’1 The rare interview with Manfredo Tafuri reproduced here expresses very clearly the dynamics of ‘private’ urban development (on the large Bicocca area in Milan, owned by Pirelli) and the new role of the architect to provide an image, a prefiguration of shapes that escape his or her control. ‘What is most obvious is that the architect hasn’t got anything to manage, and indeed is left with no opportunity to manage anything at all.’2

1 Prince Charles’s foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition Invitation to Young European Architects. The Reconstruction of a Historic Brussels Street, 1989–1995 (Brussels: Fondation pour l’architecture, 1995), p. 7. 2 ‘L’avvocato del diavolo’, first published in the student magazine Utopica #0 (Venice: IUAV, 1986), pp. 14-21.

Rue de Laeken, Jean-Philippe Garric and Valérie Nègre’s drawing for lot 4. From the book Invitation to Young European Architects. The Reconstruction of a Historic Brussels Street, 1989-1995, p. 52


Atelier d’Art Urbain, Allegory of the Canal, drawing for the canal front of Molenbeek, ca. 1995. Courtesy of Vizzion



PLACE ROGIER & CARREFOUR DE L’EUROPE. INVERTED BIGNESS ‘I would say that it is a city which consists of opposite districts. There are various poles, partially based on the different communes, partially on industrial development as well as political and bureaucratic development. All these factors generate a formally incoherent whole, full of contradictions and with rough oppositions. For my part, I find that it is a formidable quality of Brussels.’1 The Zeebrugge Sea Trade Centre international competition in 1989 marked the forthcoming decade for the outstanding quality of the competitions entries, among which OMA’s famous self-referential bulb and its first formulations of the theory of Bigness. The concepts of bigness, dirty realism and culture of congestion would keep on influencing generations of Brussels architects, but would not find a sizeable built expression until Xaveer De Geyter’s renovation of Place Rogier (2006-2017). Intermodal transportation is exhibited, enhanced and celebrated,2 while the project’s most visible feature – the canopy – is more a standpoint where to look from than an object to look at: to the west, the massive Sheraton Hotel, bankrupted in

late 2016; to the north, the Belfius Tower built on the site of the Martini Tower; to the east, the Botanique scattered with new and old high-rise office buildings; to the south, the City 2 shopping centre and the pedestrian shopping street Rue Neuve. The insertion of a project at exactly the point where it generates maximum intensity amid existing buildings – no matter what their qualities or the coherence of the ensemble – is also the main theme of XDGA’s entry for the 1998 urban design competition for the Carrefour de l’Europe, another spot of the city where politics, city struggles, tourism and transportation form a critical knot. Since his first contribution to the thinking of this site, in 1983, many commercial buildings had filled the space left empty by the North-South Junction. In the new proposal, ‘even the most abject manifestations are accepted as something to identify or even over-identify with; and certain characteristics of a city at a certain historical moment are granted complete amnesty’.3 A similar strategy was later used in two urban competitions for the European Quarter, Rue de la Loi (2008) and Rond-Point Schuman (2012). Lars Lerup uses the surgical analogy of the stent and the geological one of ‘fracking’ to analyse the two underground projects by XDGA, Place Rogier and Rond-Point Schuman.

1 Xaveer De Geyter in conversation with Dominique Boudet, Rue de la Loi competition plates, 2008. 2 Carried out by the Brussels-Capital Region, the project involves more than 11 stakeholders, including two city councils, two public transportation companies, the police, a private parking company, several hotels, bikers, taxis and neighbours’ associations.

3 Christophe Van Gerrewey, ‘Amnesty for the city. The Hoogpoort design for the Carrefour de l’Europe in Brussels (1983)’, The Journal of Architecture vol. 19, no. 3 (2014), pp. 435-453.

lars lerup, at stim&dross

Place Rogier 2017 Brussels-Capitale Region Square and underground infrastructure Xaveer De Geyter Architects 45 000 m2

Carrefour de l’Europe 1998 (competition) City of Brussels Public space around Gare Centrale Xaveer De Geyter Architects 365 600 m2

Carrefour de l’Europe competition, 1998. X-ray model. Photo Hans Werlemann

A note on xdga’s public projects in Brussels


Place Rogier, 2017. Stairs, footbridge and escalators. Photo Matthias Van Rossen

All images courtesy of XDGA


City and Urbanism The Rossian city of fabric and monument firmly held in place as if on a chessboard is long gone even in traditional European cities. An extreme hybridization of the City has resulted from the rude intervention by railroads (1830), subways (1860), water and sewage systems (1840s), streets for surface vehicles (invading with a vengeance after 1945), and lately the cabled and wired ambiente, in addition to the extreme growth and transformation of commercial and government activities best demonstrated by the introduction of extra-large office buildings after the last World War. Each of these intervening ‘machines’ was introduced as if it were independent of the City as a functioning whole, but instead was accommodated as long as it nominally connected to the surface—the ‘degree zero’ of the traditional city. This accommodation, however, has taken its toll. Gravely disturbed, the chessboard shows signs of wear, its fabric exhausted and dotted by equally distressed plazas where urbanites rush across as if perpetually agoraphobic. Architecture, once traditionally secured in its position on the old chessboard, has lost its bearings. Defending itself through strategies of total self-absorption—like Foucault heterotopian ships on a violent sea—Architecture floats recklessly about in a new urban field, one whose actual depth and complexity it appears largely to ignore. The result is a layer cake of autonomous systems, where the surface may no longer be degree zero of urbanity. Here, serving now as mere eye candy, modern Architecture seems absorbed in its own solipsistic preoccupations. In this light, Xaveer De Geyter and his firm XDGA’s recent interventions in two highly distressed public spaces in Brussels are revolutionary. Both squares, or pleins, were once part of Brussel’s carefully calibrated dominant surface that with time has been literally undermined by the sophisticated technologies of the underworld and altered by the proliferating demands of the swarm of vehicles on its surface streets. In addition, the formerly coherent edges of the perimeter blocks have been eroded, invaded by huge multistoried pavilions, whose intense traffic loads further warp the activity surface of the chessboard. While showing no nostalgia for the frazzled chessboard, XDGA nonetheless has reintroduced the ancient power of Architecture to build the City. In the past taken for granted, and now blissfully forgotten in the modernization of the City, this ancient power

A note on XDGA’s public projects in Brussels. Lars Lerup

gave Architecture the uncanny ability to engage all essential systems of the city—the perimeter block, the atria, the sidewalks, the boulevards, the plazas, and the monuments. In the modernized City, it is no longer the old equation of fabric and monument that is important. Instead what matters is the capability to engage all salient systems—old and new. Having left the chess game behind, the new City appears now as a metabolic organism—systemic and multidimensional—albeit one in grave distress.

Stent With scalpel-like precision, XDGA’s exploratory incisions expose a not yet fully integrated urban body. The city as a four-dimensional, pulsating hybrid appears first as the ghost of a Gulliver-like body, nominally fixed to the surface by myriad connectors of questionable quality but with all its organs operating at speed—a strange quasi-machine that is too social, too narrated, and too life-like to be just a piece of complex technology. As if wearing white coats and stethoscopes, the architects have employed giant stents,1 cut straight through all the layers, to access and connect all the disparate systems of the City— until now regarded as just annoying, if necessary, foreign intervening agents. The stents employed in the two plazas, however, are not just manifestations of a new technology, but instead elements of a new architectural body, one that reclaims Architecture’s role as the builder of the City.

1 In the technical vocabulary of medicine, a stent is a mesh ‘tube’ inserted into a natural passage/conduit in the body to prevent or counteract a disease-induced, localized flow constriction. The term may also refer to a tube used to temporarily hold such a natural conduit open to allow access for surgery.

Carrefour de l’Europe competition, 1998. Photo Hans Werlemann


Like so much in the modern world, it is on a relative nano scale that truly revolutionary inventions take place—from computers, cell phones, and electronic pads, to Teflon joints, replacement hearts, and artificial limbs. Similarly, in the Belgian case, the architectural intervention is tiny when viewed next to the usual showstoppers of giant new museums or stadiums. But there is a further difference: instead of stopping the ebb and flow of the city, XDGA’s stents enhance and promote its circulation—the heart analogy here is quite precise. The ingenuity of these architectural insertions is best seen in section and, when completed, in the ensuing architectural promenade. The architectural power is in turn best appreciated in the form of the stent.

In Schuman Square, the stent appears again, but its completion is radically different. Urban squares are notoriously accosted by traffic of all kinds that threatens any ‘holding’ or ‘sheltering’ activities. Gathering together in a crowd belongs to the past—here only errands, the to-and-fro, count. But not so at the new Schuman Square. Performing a type of urban fracking,3 the stent opens and pushes through formerly clogged cracks in the section to bring forth new energies. The result is that the surface breaks open both to reveal the netherworld and to engage the square itself. But like a face, it has a back and a front—on the underside, a dish-like canopy; and on its verso, an atrium—the latter of which allows pedestrians to turn kibitzers, sharing a bit of respite from the eternal urban flux. But maybe most intriguingly, the implied gathering recalls not the old activity of the public square, but instead the activity of the auditorium. Maybe that is the only acceptable way of public gathering left for us, all others being tainted by street protests, on the one hand, and individual agoraphobia, on the other.

Because of their scale and apparent modesty, these two squares may take some time to reach architecture aficionados and, more productively, city builders, but I predict that the pushback may blow new life into Architecture by making us spend as much effort in the section as in the plan. The result is to shift Architecture from creating spectacular cul-de-sacs for effete activity (The Bilbao Effect) to reinventing the in between and reconnecting what was before just laconically linked. In Brussels, formerly separated at birth, Architecture and Urbanism appear in these two In Rogier Square (located in the Brussels Pentagon), a squares joined at the hip—a great day for the City and huge sixty-six-meter2 canopy tops the stent, but leans a new era for Architecture. in on a canted central leg over a previously abandoned strip of open space to claim territory for the endangered pedestrian. The assembly of the stem and canopy transforms the intervention from the merely technical to the architectural in that it transports/connects and shelters simultaneously. This duality suggests a different species of ‘machine,’ one that is closer to infrastructure (the grand halls of railroad stations, airports, harbor terminals, and subway stations) than to simple shelter (museum and church). Suddenly the frazzled perimeter is no longer importHydraulic fracturing is the propagation of fractures in a rock ant; it is just hosting the traffic while the center of the 3 layer by a pressurized fluid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally— plein has taken over as the visual/actual focus. certain veins or dikes are examples—and can create conduits along

2 Incidentally this diameter is exactly the same as the diameter of the Roman Pantheon.

Place Rogier, model. Photo Frans Parthesius

which gas and petroleum from source rocks may migrate to reservoir rocks. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as fracing, fraccing, or fracking, is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction. This type of fracturing creates fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations.

Lars Lerup, designer and writer, is a Professor of Architecture at Rice School of Architecture. He was Dean at RSA and William Ward Watkin Professor from 1993 to 2009. Previously, he taught for many years at the University of California at Berkeley.


Dan Graham and Robin Hurst, ‘Corporate Arcadias’, Artforum, December 1987, pp. 68-74. Courtesy of Dan Graham









Original photographs by Armin Linke Magazine excerpts by Accattone, with texts by Dan Graham, Lars Lerup, Cédric Libert, orthodoxe, Manfredo Tafuri A lecture by Rem Koolhaas / OMA (2003) commented by Freek Persyn and Nicolas Firket Video interviews to Sefik Birkiye, Philémon Wachtelaer Projects by André Jacqmain / Atelier d’Architecture de Genval, Fitzroy Robinson & Partners, A.J. De Doncker, ELD partnership, Gordon Bunshaft / SOM, Samyn & Partners, Atelier d’Art Urbain  / Vizzion Architects, Jaspers – Eyers & Partners, Constantin Brodzki, Ricardo Bofill, CERAU, Xaveer De Geyter Architects, C.R.V., Marc Vanden Bossche, C.D.G., Studiogroep Dirk Bontinck, Michael Graves, Lucien De Vestel, Jean Gilson, André & Jean Polak, Pierre Lallemand, Steven Beckers, Art & Build, Montois and Partners, Helmut Jahn, ARC, Atelier d’architecture Paul Noël, Vander Elst, René Stapels, Géo Bontinck, Jacques Cuisinier, CDG – Czyz, de Laveleye & Grochowski, L. Konior and J. Kowal Curatorship: Carlo Menon & Sophie Dars Collaboration: Carlo Goncalves & Fondation CIVA Stichting Photography: Armin Linke Grafic design: Überknackig Video: Gogolplex