Architecture - Issue 110 - Magazine | Monocle

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Studio profile

Vincent Van Duysen — Antwerp

Over 30 years, Vincent Van Duysen has been designing everything from offices, shops and residences to furniture and objects. From his Antwerp base, Van Duysen and his team of 20 have earned a global reputation for work with a human touch.

“When architects apply here I want to see their portfolio, obviously. But just as important are curiosity, awareness and empathy,” he says. “Empathy and knowledge of human nature are the most important qualities in architecture, because you not only make better designs for the client, you can translate the concepts better to the project’s builders.”

Though happy to be called the most “Italian” designer among his generation of Belgian talent (he was named art director of Lombardy furniture giant Molteni&C in 2016), Van Duysen dislikes some other labels. “I’m often called a minimalist but that’s not how I see it. I research until I reach the essence of what a space needs, then add layers of textures, colours and materials. My work is far too sensual to be called minimal.”

This is exemplified in recent Belgian projects such as the renovation of a convent, where original floors and upholstery are celebrated rather than overwritten. An upcoming housing development, Nieuw Zuid in Antwerp, finds him working alongside Shigeru Ban and Peter Zumthor, while he’s also building himself a home in Alentejo, Portugal, “near the ocean, in the dunes”.

Also in the works: a winery for cool climate wines in Flanders, many residential projects and a sequal to his monograph, published by Thames & Hudson.

Notable projects:

Paul, Molteni&C

A simple and elegant sofa inspired by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.

DC II Residence, Belgium

The warm wooden façades of the new farmhouse refer to the original barns.

La Rinascente, Rome

Van Duysen’s take on Italian rationalism can be seen across the historic building.


William To

Project director,Business of Design Week

Hong Kong

Organised by the Hong Kong Design Centre, this event welcomes designers of all disciplines each December for a series of conferences, workshops and informal dialogue.

What keeps people returning to the event?
The masterclass usually generates the most enthusiasm. The most valuable lesson is how these masters approach projects and problems in their work, whether that is a design problem or a business problem. Designers in the audience learn how to grow their brand while businesses learn how to use design as a powerful tool.

How is business and design coming together in Asia?
Looking at South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, we think it’s a good sign that governments in the region are willing to nurture not just creative ideas but the industry more broadly.

Deep in the woods


To replace a fire-damaged pool complex at the Freemen’s boarding school, architects HawkinsBrown designed an impressive timber-framed construction with geometric beams supporting a gently sloping roof over a new six-lane pool. As well as being a resilient insulator, timber complements the woodland surroundings. The building appears partially submerged but vast windows along three exposed sides grant it ample sunlight and, as HawkinsBrown’s Adam Cossey notes, allows visitors to have “the sense of swimming among the trees”.

House viewing

By Nolan Giles

If there’s one crossover between design and media that never fails to engage it’s the home renovation television show. From the straight fix-up story to non-domesticated blokes employing a tasteful Queer Eye on a full-scale home revamp, it’s a form that billions of viewers have long been fascinated by.

Today, this format is birthing more amateur architecture critics than ever. As the “grand reveal” occurs, comments are hurled at TV sets from Durban to Dallas as viewers smugly think: “I’d do it much better.” Bringing out the inner interior designer in us all is one of many ingredients that make these shows so appealing – aspiration, plain nosiness and voyeurism add to the addictiveness. Increasingly, the home makeover show has become big business. Australia’s obsession with the “reno” has been packaged into a sleek format with The Block, which wrapped up its 13th season last October. Here, apartment blocks are transformed by small teams of novice renovators competing with each other in a highly heated hybrid of Big Brother and Better Homes and Gardens.

Yet something important is largely missing from these shows: good design. A case could be made for the architectural wisdom passed on by design-minded hosts such as Kevin McCloud, from the UK’s popular Grand Designs. But while McCloud is advising on the most sensitive materials to be used on site, I’m sure many viewers are anticipating that moment when the project goes pear-shaped. No one is going to take the time to read a book on bad renovations but plenty will tune in for design disasters. Thankfully, here at monocle we’re in the print business and we’ll continue to present the best in design, leaving the TV networks to profit from trashier tales.

Material gains


From the Arctic Circle to the tropical beaches of Brazil, Accoya, a unique timber processed in the Netherlands, is being installed in many large-scale architectural projects. Despite being a softwood, its greatest asset is its durability. “We take sustainably grown softwood and modify it by a process called ‘acetylation’,” says Accoya’s Justin Peckham. “In layman’s terms, it’s pickling the wood.”

This “pickling” makes it as strong as a hardwood, while creating a weather-resistant material. Boasting a greater longevity and sturdier than most hardwoods, Accoya isn’t treated with toxic chemicals, so it’s biodegradable too.

Accoya in action:

Royal Arena

Copenhagen, Denmark (2017)
Danish firm 3XN integrated the lights, speakers and security cameras into the stadium’s wooden lamellas.

Marine Base Amsterdam Building 27E

Netherlands (2016)
Wooden screens on the façade are shaped into flags in this conversion of a marine base into offices.

Tintra Footbridge

Voss, Norway (2015)
Architect Rintala Eggertsson used Accoya timber for the vertical cladding on this steel structure.

Let’s fix: Lisbon


The problem:
Lisbon’s streets are choked with traffic but the River Tagus is empty. There are few ferry routes, no water taxis and this inaccessibility makes the river a barrier to developing the south bank.

What went wrong?
“Fifty years ago, the river was a place of production and connection,” says Tiago Mota Saraiva of urban regeneration practice Atelier Mob. “Since the 1980s we’ve focused on the car and the river has become simply for leisure.”

Monocle fix:
Upgrade ageing ferries and their routes, and launch a water taxi to link districts. Infrastructure such as docks could be converted but regulations on river use deter commercial innovation. “If we don’t rethink the river it will remain no more than a beautiful wall,” says Mota Saraiva.

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