“Two feet and a lot of airplanes, these are the most important mains of transport of architect Vincent Van Duysen. Very fast and very slow. He shares his time between his headquarters and his home in the historic city centre of Antwerp (5 minutes walking distance of each other) and basically the rest of the world, where he works on architecture, interiors and furniture…
It’s all in the details with Vincent Van Duysen. When the Belgian architect describes his favourite hotel room in Milan, it goes like this: “Room 505 of the Park Hyatt has a low ceiling, which acts as a warm blanket. It has a corner with a window on each side. Looking through them brings you in the middle of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele! At the start of the day I like to watch the businessmen heading to their offices. The morning energy rushes by in that impressive décor, every day since its opening in 1877. It ’s amazing. American architect Ed Tuttle designed the hotel rooms in a brilliant way. Its colours and finishes are subtle reflections of the Galleria itself. And how I love the desk in travertine on which I often work.”
Feelings, emotions, experiences…. that ‘s what Vincent Van Duysen considers when talking about architecture and interiors. Even when it’s not his own. “Architecture is Abitare! It’s living in it. Owning it. Architecture is here for us, humans, not the other way around.” In that opinion it’s evident he creates architecture and its interiors together, especially in residences. “It doesn’t make sense to do it differently, it comes together anyways for the people who will live there.”
Almost thirty years ago he established his architectural office. He created offices, shop interiors, and residences. And furniture and decoration. Now he has a team of twenty twenty architects, interior architects and product designers. “When architects apply here, I want to see their portfolio, obviously. But what is maybe more important is a sense of curiosity, awareness and empathy. Because empathy and knowledge of the human nature really are the most important qualities in architecture. Because you not only make better designs for the client, you also can translate the concepts better to the actual builders of the project.”
He doesn’t disagree when being called the most Italian designer of his generation. “Italians are in a way like Flemish: driven and focused.” Other labels he rather dislikes. “I’m often called a minimalist, but that’ s not how I see it. I do search until I reach the very essence of what a space needs. Then I add layers of textures, colours and materials. My work is far too sensual to be called minimal.” He has a clear and obvious preference for natural materials: “I hate artificiality, mediocrity and industry. I prefer stone, wood, leather,… True materials, full of energy, and often mastered by great craftsmen with exceptional skills.”
I’m currently working on a renovation of an old convent of a military hospital in Antwerp. We pay full attention to recover as much as possible old floors, spaces, and ceilings. In the meantime, on the other part of the city near the river Scheldt, we are building service flats for elderly people. On the same site -called Nieuw Zuid- there will be high level architecture from Robbrecht & Daem, Shigeru Ban, Peter Zumthor, …. It’ s nice to be able to build in this brand new living area in my own city.” But then again, he did just start building a home for himself in Alentejo in Portugal. “Near the ocean, in the dunes, a breath-taking place. It will be finished by the end of 2018: it’s solid, bright and in the same line as the local colour scheme.” Also coming up, with the same deadline: a winery for cool climate wines in Flanders, a lot of residential projects and a book on his work, published by Thames & Hudson. Not to forget: in the meantime he manages his very active Instagram-account, with almost 69k followers and more then 1000 pictures…
- Youth Hostel, Antwerpen, Belgium. “Materiality and furniture are very utilitarian, robust, and vandal-proof. The users and the surroundings add colour and liveliness.”
- Paul, sofa for Molteni & C. 2016. Since 2016 Vincent Van Duysen is art director for the furniture brand Molteni & C. “An honour and a challenge” he admits. This sofa is simple, clear and elegant. Named after Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, but without the surname. Cabinet Quinten exists too, and table Jan. This could be a quiz question.
- DC II Residence, Residence in Tielrode, Belgium. “A passive house, 3 new volumes rebuilt on the same footprint as existing house and barns. Wooden façades refer to original barns. Individual houses stay very important in my architectural practice.”
- Concordia, office building in Waregem, Belgium. 1998. “My very first big architectural project”
- Infra-Structure, for Flos Italy. “A network of light, based on the Bauhaus-principles. The collection is composed of a 24V track using a magnetic technology for power distribution and luminaries installation.”
- Graanmarkt 13, shop and Bed & breakfast in Antwerpen, Belgium.
- Vincent Van Duysen residence, “a sanctuary in the historic center of Antwerp”
- La Rinascente Rome, retail project, 2017. Renovation of the historical building’s façade, general lay-outs, atrium, first floor and ground floor. Vincent Van Duysen’s interpretation of the rational architecture in Italy.
- Franck, outdoor furniture for Sutherland, 2018.
PS: part of this article was published in Monocle magazine of February 2018. (they cut a lot, they are far more factual than I am. :-))