Vincent Van Duysen: The Way to a Modest Architecture

The course that Vincent Van Duysen has covered since 1990 shows a great consistency and a coherent design vision. From the start, he has focused on making a profile for himself with the design of a number of retail projects. This focus was no coincidence. Van Duysen has said on many occasions that if he had not had the opportunity to study architecture he would undoubtedly have pursued a career in fashion. It is therefore unsurprising that after his studies in Sint Lucas Gent he moved to Milan, a city renowned as one of the world capitals of design and fashion. In Milan he became convinced that a designer should not only express a concept as clearly as possible, he should also pay attention to every significant detail.

His shop designs are architectural creations, in which the choice of material and the precise details are crucial. Just like John Pawson and David Chipperfield,  he decided to profile himself through these modest projects. His experience with shops led for example to projects for the big Italian store chain La Rinascente.

Carrières du Hainaut Stand. Image © Koen Van Damme

Private projects

Van Duysen himself did not start with large public commissions but small residential and retail contracts. In this AMAG, his private houses are abundantly present. In a Belgian context, this is certainly not an exception. In comparison to the Netherlands or England for example, there are much more private clients who want to build an individual house. The relationship between the architect and the client is different. Van Duysen talks about "tailor-made' homes. private spaces designed with the client's complete comfort in mind. With such a high level of involvement on the client‘s part, it is extremely important that the architect gains a full understanding of his or her wishes. On the other hand, houses do tend to outlast their owners, and so most designers will be aware of the need to manage every specific personal tastes. The project which first brought Van Duysen to the attention of the architect world as someone capable of more than just housing was undoubtedly the Concordia office building in Waregem (1998). His first public project is the youth hostel in Antwerp (2004-2012), in which he managed to redefine this type of project.

A detail is not a detail

Although time-consuming, attention to detail is essential and not just 'incidental' in the process, according to Van Duysen's philosophy. Detailed specification is highly important to the implementation process. All too often, however, the significance of details is underestimated, even completely minimalized, because  ”detail" is seen as something minor importance that is always secondary to the big idea. For Van Duysen, attention to detail is fundamental: the small things should not be overlooked because the intensity of the basic idea should be present even at this level. This was also something he learned from studying Mies van der Rohe: that the essence is in the detail. Van Duysen achieves his own high standard of finish through a combination of the use of highly motivated professionals and relentless monitoring of each project by himself and his team members. High standards demand a high budget, it's true, but on the other hand, the architect is helping sustain technical mastery through his work. Precise measurements rather than relying on the silicone gun to cover up mistakes. He is also interested in another, oft-overlooked aspect of the construction phase: that architects can give craftsman the opportunity to create something meaningful of which they can be proud. His projects in the housing sector gave him the opportunity for projects of furniture, kitchen design and small objects taken into production by renowned Belgian and international companies.

Carrières du Hainaut Stand. Image © Koen Van Damme
DC2 Residence. Image © Koen Van Damme

Towards “visually silent” architecture

For Van Duysen there is no need to clamor for attention with virtuoso shapes. He has no interest in short-term visual effect: his designs are characterized by their identity and reconcilability. Van Duysen's work is a refusal of all that is showy, that strives to be spectacular. His work is not about non-committal, intellectual posturing, or about producing nice yet superficial ideas. For him, tangibility is all, the transformation of an idea into a real, surprising, visual whole. Tactile enjoyment and visual experience reign supreme.

DC2 Residence. Image © Koen Van Damme

The pursuit of the monolithic form is one of the preoccupations in modern architecture. His most obvious example is the VDV residence in Zonhoven (1999-2007). This is also present in his recent projects, like the country house in Tielrode. The three new volumes received an identical profile and a wooden exterior, making the complex hardly noticeable from a certain distance. Van Duysen obtains here the same goal as Alvaro Siza, who also renovated and expanded an estate close to Ostend. The goal is to be hardly noticeable, without going back to a pseudo-estate style, frequently seen in Flanders.

A lot of people are convinced by the obsession that innovation and dynamics equal strange, organic forms that can be produced by the software. But this is clearly not the case for Van Duysen. In a world almost polluted by visual stimuli, surely architecture has another role. It should not try to emulate ephemera such as fashion or pop vídeos, for example. It is doomed to fulfill a different function, if only because of the length of the whole architectural process. This problem was clearly expressed by the Austrian architect Adolf Loos at the beginning of the 20th century.

Tonickx Offices. Image © Koen Van Damme

The job of architecture is to create authentic contexts in which we can be at peace, in which the multitudes of the world can find shelter. It is a search for intense simplicity to counterbalance the visual violence in the world. This quest for noble simplicity has nothing to do with laziness: it is the result of a conviction that human beings need harmonious spaces. It is much more a petition for a return to an approach in which silence can claim its place.

It would be all too easy to describe Van Duysen's work as “minimalist". This can lead to the paradox that precise and simple execution is frequently more expensive whilst appearing to deliver less. In a world in which we are bombarded with images, many people cannot understand or accept this.

DC2 Residence. Image © Koen Van Damme

'Verwechseln Sie bitte nicht das Eínfache mit dem Simplen' (Don’t confuse simpleness with simplicity.)

Mies van der Rohe

Edição #4. Image Cortesia de AMAG


POCKET SELECTION from the full edition AMAG 04, dedicated to Vincent's Van Duysen Work. A carefull selection of 10 projects, that presents, the unique and sensorial concept that identify Vincent Van Duysen Work's. More 18 projects are featured at A.MAG 04 full edition. Buy now at WWW.ADOTMAG.COM, and receive with It for free the XS format issue.

About this author
Cite: Dubois, Marc. " Vincent Van Duysen: The Way to a Modest Architecture" [ Vincent Van Duysen - O caminho para uma arquitetura modesta] 06 Jul 2019. ArchDaily. (Trans. Vada, Pedro) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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