Brutalism Office Excursion

On the 9th November Jeanne Dekkers Architectuur went on an office excursion to see the Brutalist Architecture that Belgium has to offer, as well as a couple of projects by the architecture firm Vylder Vinck Tailieu. It was a day of diversity with some projects leaving us inspired and others leaving us perplexed… We visited, among others, the following places: Roosenberg Abbey, St Rita’s Church, Kerselare Chapel, Ledeberg Service Centre and Caritas Psychiatric Centre.

The day began with a tour of Roosenberg Abbey in Waasmunster by sister Trees Verstuyft, designed by the benedictine architect Dom Hans van der Laan in 1975 it is a place of atmospheric simplicity and serenity. He used the principles of the plastic number to create a calculated space with a strong emphasis on the harmony between the inside and the outside, light and shadow, colour and raw materials. Not only did he design the building but also the furniture, gardens, entrance route and robes. Hans Van Der Laan created an immersive experience from the moment you enter the grounds.

Dom Hans van der Laan, Abbey Roosenberg, Waasmunster
Dom Hans van der Laan, Abbey Roosenberg, Waasmunster

The second stop on our visit was St Rita’s Church in Harelbeke, designed by Leon Stynen and Paul De Meyer in 1963 it is truly a jaw dropping building. Located in a very residential, low level neighbourhood, the church protrudes out of the landscape like a corrugated concrete pyramid emphasising the scale and engineering behind the design. Once inside the sloping walls and floors give an overpowering sense of the minute human scale. While the lack of windows creates an all encompassing atmosphere which allows you to focus solely on the internal space almost ignoring the outside world except for the large roof light above which offers glimpses of the sky.

Leon Stynen and Paul De Meyer, St Rita Church, Harelbeke

The third stop on our trip educated us in the experimental architecture of Juliaan Lampens. We visited Kerselare Chapel in Oudenaarde which was built in 1964 and showcases an ambitious engineering venture which unfortunately has not stood the test of time. It still stands but with large metallic yellow columns for extra support while it awaits restoration on the overhanging and large spanning ceilings. Although not in its original state of glory, it was very interesting to see how the chapel has incorporated modern safety measures whilst still functioning as a place of worship.

Juliaan Lampens, Kerselare Chapel, Oudenaarde

As we got closer to Gent we visited two projects by the architectural practice Vylder Vinck Taillieu. After seeing their recent rise in popularity we wanted to see for ourselves the playful and sometimes controversial projects they have created. First stop was the Ledeberg Service Centre, a municipality building in the main square of Ledeberg. VVT were responsible for renovating and extending the 19th century town hall. Externally the building facade is conserved, however, internally layers of modern interventions overlap with original details. These interventions create spaces, access routes and views through the building. After the solidarity and openness of the previous projects the town hall seemed like an explosion of materials and ideas. Some of which work very effectively while others leave you thinking was this intended or is this sarcastic?

Vylder Vinck Taillieu, Ledeberg Service Centre, Ledeberg

To explore VVT further we went to the Caritas Psychiatric Centre in Melle. A run down building within the grounds of the site which was intended for demolition, however, VVT came up with an imaginative plan to avoid demolition. The existing building now creates an indoor/outdoor multi use space for visitors, residents and staff. Most of the original facade, partition walls and roof have remained however, modern interventions have been incorporated to increase the structural stability, access, views and uses. These interventions are generally finished in bright green to highlight their location and contrast with the historical building materials. We all enjoyed exploring the different levels, balconies, staircases and viewpoints that were on offer and created new visual perspectives of a grand historical building in decay.

Vylder Vinck Taillieu, Caritas Psychiatric Centre, Melle
Leva, Elise, Manora, Wilma, Anton, Jeanne, Kate

The day ended in the centre of Gent where we visited a few local projects including the markethal (Robbrecht & Daem), the library de Krook (RCR Arquitectes) and the economics faculty (Xavier de Geyter & Stephane Beel). The final stop was Pakhuis, a cleverly renovated 18th century warehouse transformed into a restaurant serving delicious food in a great atmosphere.