Pioneering Practices Meesterproef |
The ‘meesterproef’ is part of the Pioneering Practices Research Project, which analyses the designs of several buildings in Flanders from the 1960s and 1970s. They range from experimental housing and large-scale buildings such as schools, ecclesiastic and cultural complexes to leisure centers and city halls. This research aims to generate more knowledge on these experimental buildings, by combining design and practice-based expertise with theoretical research. Architects as Leon Stynen, Alfons Hoppenbrouwers, Jos Van Driessche, Paul Felix and Lode Wouters were designers/ builders as well as teachers, passing on their ideologies, skills and knowledge through their practices and teaching studios. The research project is led by Caroline Voet. Laura Lievevrouw started the first PhD within the project in 2020.
Since this academic year, the Faculty of Architecture of KU Leuven Campuses Ghent and Brussel initiated a new type of dissertation project, which has a more theoretical approach than the otherwise practice-based studios with an output towards a design proposal with mainly drawings and models. This dissertation project is a hybrid experiment between these two, where a more reflective paper is superimposed with analytical and creative drawings. The design proposal is as a smaller appendix, enabling a second projective application of the methodologies and techniques abstracted from the analysis.
After some preliminary research, in February 2021, two students, Anouk Depaepe and Kato Desmet, embarked on the research journey put forward by this studio proposal. They selected an architect and one or more of his buildings to thoroughly engage with. Observations and mappings of the buildings are combined with archival research of drawings and writings, as well as interviews. They tried to enter the mental space of the architect and his design process. What were his motivations and dreams, his (failed) endeavors and influences, and what skills did he employ to engage with space and structure, with the human scale and the urban landscape? The architectural drawing is seen as a practice embedded within the design process, which influences and shapes the architectural production. With this focus on the productiveness of the drawing, they set forth to detect design tools and make new drawings, describing the genealogy and DNA of the building. This is combined with writings that engage with the history and context of the building, as well as their own lens and methodology as a designing architect. Both of the students set forth to analyze a building not only through the context, historiography or formal descriptions, but through a deep reading that demanded them to sharpen their creative skills and empathic attitude as designers.
Parallel to the analysis, the students tested some of the readings and methodologies generated through their research in a vacant, intermediate scale office and shopping structure of the ‘60s and ‘70s in a dense historic city centre. They selected the former C&A building by modernist architect Léon Stynen in Ghent. It has a concrete grid structure with typical deep floor slabs maximising the density of the plot at hand. It is one of the many deteriorating buildings within a fragile urban fabric of shopping streets, lost within processes of speculation since the new shopping centres took over their role. Is it possible to envision an architectural intervention that might open this closed structure to the city? If you start by engaging with the mental space of the designing architect, how do you create parallel worlds that enter into dialogue, or maybe even escape it?