Category Archives: MISFITS

people whose contribution to better performing buildings has not been fully appreciated

Architecture Misfit #41: Kiyoshi Seike

This is an admission of an omission. For the three years I was at Kazuo Shinohara’s atelier at the then-called Tokyo Institute of Technology, I thought Kiyoshi Seike (清家 清) was running his own studio at the end of the corridor of the same floor of the same building. I used the Ōokayama gate to enter campus and, on the way to Midorigaoka Bldg. 1, from the bridge crossing the railway, you could see Mt. Fuji in the distance on a clear autumn day. It’s always surprisingly large because you’re looking for something smaller.

The old building has since had a retrofit.

Occasionally, Shinohara would refer to Seike-sensei so I always imagined someone at least twenty years older. I was also under the impression that Seike-sensei was interested in traditional Japanese architecture and, since I was interested in modern Japanese architecture and particularly that of Shinohara and the 1970s, I never walked to the end of the corridor to find out more. I regret this. But then, Seike-sensei was probably not there anyway because university policy was for professors to retire at 60, and Seike would’ve turned 60 in 1978, the year before I arrived in Japan.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn all too shamefully recently, that Seike (1918–2005) was only seven years older than Shinohara (1925-2006) and that he died only one year before. Seike graduated from the Tokyo University of the Arts and Tokyo Institute of Technology and was an apprentice of modernist architect Yoshiro Taniguchi. I still don’t know when.

Kiyoshi Seike’s own teacher at Tokyo Tech was Yoshirō Taniguchi (1904–79), a distinguished modernist and also the father of Yoshio Taniguchi (b. 1937 and architect and consultant to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in its recent rehab).”[3]

The lives and careers of Seike and Shinohara were intertwined. There is little biographical information on Shinohara and even less on Seike and all of what I have below comes from Thomas Daniell’s excellent essay on Shinohara in his excellent book An Anatomy of Influence. I’m reading it to get a glimpse of Seike, even though there is also much I didn’t know about Shinohara.

  • Shinohara began a degree in mathematics while Japan was still at war.
  • He was deployed to Korea just before the war ended (1945) and discharged three months later.
  • Upon return, he completed his degree and taught mathematics at Tokyo Medical and Dental College. (1948–1950?)
  • He became dissatisfied with mathematics (or at least the teaching of it) and his interest in architecture began with philospher Tetsuro Watsuji’s book “Pilgrimage to the Ancient Temples of Nara”.
  • While attending a mathematics conference in Kyoto, Shinohara made his own pilgrimage to Nara and the roof of the Toshodai-ji Temple convinced him to study architecture.
  • Shinohara enrolled at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and, while still interested in Buddhist temples, also learned about western architecture through the magazine Kokusai Kenchiku [International Architecture]. He said he admired the facade composition of Villa Stein and the corner decorations of Palais Stoclet.
  • In third year, students had to choose a research topic and a professor to study under. By chance, Shinohara saw in a copy of Shinkenchiku [New Architecture] magazine on a friend’s desk, photographs of the House for Prof. Mori (1951), designed by Kiyoshi Seike. (1951). Shinohara joined Seike’s studio.
  • After graduation, Seike asked Shinohara to stay on as teaching assistant from 1953 until 1962 when Shinohara was made assistant professor and given his own studio/atelier (篠原研究室) This was the year of the famous essay “Houses are Art!”. He became full professor in 1970. The university atelier continued until Shinohara’s retirement in 1986. He was to run a private atelier until 1997.

But, getting back to Seike’s 1951 House for Dr. Mori, the one that started it all for Shinohara, there’s a lack of concern for the house’s appearance to the street yet it’s not a fortress. The only window facing the street is a full-width one for what looks like the study that also has another full-length window facing the garden. Traditionally, a Japanese house has a long and circuitous route to the guest areas. [It’s a sign of respect to invite guests deep into the house.] Along the way, round timber columns disappear into the ceiling along the corridor that is a sunlit engawa-like space connecting the entrance and living area. It and the Japanese-style rooms opening onto it are the true heart of the house. It’s lovely.

In this house Shinohara saw a merging of the traditional and the modern but, as this is said of many Japanese architects (and even non-Japanese ones such as Antonin Raymond) perhaps it’s more correct to say Shinohara saw some essential Japanese-ness despite the modern idiom. Shinohara therefore entered Seike’s studio just when Seike was completing his most well-known house, House for Prof. Saito. Terunobu Fujimori has emphasized its importance by calling it a “timber Farnsworth House”. Again, the living room is the main event of the house, and features an offset round timber column disappearing into the ceiling. The concrete foundation from the previous house on the site was reused.

Shinohara was there when Seike completed his 1953 House for Professor Miyagi for which little information exists. A square plan is divided into nine by metal trusses, with the central section a roof light.

Shinohara was there in 1954 when Seike designed his My House, a 10m x 5m house for himself and his family in his parent’s back garden. Seike was now 36. Shinohara 29.

  • Walls are concrete and a steel truss spans the living room.
  • The two sleeping areas are separated by a curtain.
  • The kitchen is just a place to prepare food. It has no symbolic importance.
  • The toilet is where the house is entered, and has no door. [The only other example I know of this is SANAA with their 2006-8 Okurayama Apartments.]
  • There is no bath or shower. The family used the one in his parents’ house.
  • Much is made of the continuity between inside and outside, and the use of large sliding glass doors and the same stone to achieve that.
  • The floor is stone, not wood or tatami. This is a “shoes-on” house (or at least was until 1957).
  • There is a moveable Japanese-style tatami “room” that can be rolled outside. It has four square (half) tatami.

In any case, House for Prof. Mori (1951), My House (1954) and House for Prof. Saito (1954) sufficiently impressed Walter Groupius that he asked to be shown them when he visited Japan in 1954. There’s no doubt that, in these houses, Gropius saw a merging of the Japanese and the modern but it’s probably more correct to say that Gropius saw some essential modernness despite the Japanese idiom. At least that’s what Gropius excitedly wrote Mr. Le Corbusier.

We don’t know if Seike took Gropius up on his offer of $100 a week but Seike did spend a few weeks in the US sometime around 1955. Each of the three houses Seike showed Gropius in 1954 were for a university professor and all in the area of Kugahara not too far from the campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. In short, Seike gained an international reputation for designing three small houses in Kugahara. This is no mean feat. For Seike in the early 1950s, houses might not have been art, but they were very important.

The years 1950-55 were busy ones for Seike so it wouldn’t have been unusual for him to let his students make proposals for a commission he either didn’t want or was too busy to handle. Shinohara won the studio competition and the result is his first house, the 1953-54 House in Kugayama which is often thought to be an interpretation of Kenzo Tange’s first (and only) house which was nearby. The Japanese style room has nine square (half) tatami.

Kiyoshi Seike then, would have wound up his university atelier sometime in 1978 or soon after but this means that, in addition to the four houses we know, there must be much more from the university period alone, let alone from 1978 until 2005. This book seems to have the answer and I will mostly rely upon it for the following chronology. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions.

Ginichi Store 1950, Tokyo
Dr. Mori’s House 1951, Tokyo
House of Assistant Professor Saito 1952, Tokyo
Professor Miyagi’s House 1953, Tokyo
House for a Mathematician 1954, Tokyo

My House 1954, Tokyo
House for Professor Tsuboi 1955, Tokyo [left]

Cliff House 1956, Hyogo [extension/addition]

Kyushu Institute of Technology Memorial Auditorium and Office Building 1960, Kitakyusyu

Mr. Shimazawa’s House 1962, Tokyo [extension]
Saitama Prefecture Agriculture and Forestry Center 1962, Saitama

Ohara School of Ikebana, 1962, Hyogo
House in Kugahara 1964, Tokyo [needs confirming]

Tokyo Olympic Athletes Village Main Gate 1964, Tokyo
Hisagahara House + Tsukukushigahara House 1964 / 1971, Tokyo [extension]
Nomura Kogeisha Osaka Company Housing 1965, Osaka
Nomura Kogeisha Tokyo Company Housing 1966 / 1974, Tokyo

House in Kokonoesaka, 1967, Hyogo
House in Chigataki 1968, Nagano
House for Professor Tsuboi 1968, Tokyo [extension]

Ohara School of Ikebana Museum, 1970, Hyogo
House in Higashigaoka + House in Higashigaoka in Zoku 1970 / 1973, Tokyo
My House 1970, Tokyo
[extension, right]

Osaka Expo United Nations Pavilion 1970, Osaka

House in Kugahara II, 1974 Tokyo ( [needs confirming]

Tokyo Institute of Technology Research Institute of Science and Engineering Research Institute Planning 1974, Kanagawa
Izu Mitsu Sea Paradise 1977, Shizuoka

Seisei General Wholesale Center Association Hall 1975, Shizuoka
Izu Mitsu Sea Paradise 1977, Shizuoka
Karuizawa Prince Hotel New Building 1982, Nagano
Lake Nojiri Prince Hotel 1984, Nagano
Asakura Fumio Memorial Museum 1990, Oita

Sapporo National College of Technology 1990 / 1994, Hokkaido

There’s probably more. MIT Libraries lists this next as Seike House, designed by Kiyoshi Seike in 1954 but gives no location. Perhaps it was done in the US during Seike’s short spell at TAC?

There’s definitely the East 1 Building at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. It’s a tradition for about-to-retire professors of architecture to add to the campus so this administration building probably dates from about 1975.

There was a 2004 (?) exhibition to commemorate 50 years since My House.

Between 1981 and 1982 Kiyishi Seike was President of the Architectural Institute of Japan. This comes between his time at Tokyo Institute of Technology and the beginning of his private practice. So why isn’t Kiyoshi Seike better remembered despite being well respected by his peers and the profession? My first thought is that he placed too much importance on the house itself, rather than how it was represented or communicated in magazines. Most of the photographs we see of House for Professor Saito today are those of the 1:1 model, not the original photographs. Many of the later houses are under-photographed. They may have appeared in magazines at the time, but they weren’t photographed to be sensational. This is gentlemanly and professional, but very old school. It’s a shame. I hope to find that book and learn more.

清家 清
Kiyoshi Seike

  • For not seeking out fame, but nevertheless gaining an international reputation for three small houses you cared about,
  • For being one of an older generation of architects such as Tōgō Murano who saw the building and living in it as the truth, rather than images of it,
  • For not writing polemical texts stating your position, and finally
  • For inspiring many other architects including, indirectly, me.

misfits salutes you!

Further Reading:

    Very interesting account of Gropius’ trip to Japan. [In Chinese. Some of the Japanese names won’t translate accurately into English. Or Japanese]


Architecture Misfit #40: Riken Yamamoto

I’ve missed out for not knowing more about Riken Yamamoto sooner. I’d always admired his 1977 Yamakawa Villa and never miss an opportunity to mention it, most recently in The Dispersed House.

I recently borrowed a copy of the 2012 book Riken Yamamoto – it’s in English and Japanese and has the byline “A diary of 34 years.” On the cover is the man having his photograph taken barefoot with short-sleeved shirt untucked, relaxed and smiling. Apart from this being the first time I’ve ever seen the feet of an architect, it’s also not the usual artificially-lit, three-quarter view dourness intended to solicit awe for being tasked with shouldering the weight of the world. Why can’t architects just do good work and be happy? We need more happy architects.

The book covers the period from the 1977 Yamakawa Villa until 2012 when the book was published. Instead of the book being prefaced with one or more adoring texts written by academics, Yamamoto has written a 400-word introduction himself. This is it.

There’s nothing wrong with an architect being both good and humble but it’s odd I should think it odd. For some reason, we’re educated to accept that an architect must be good and arrogant, leading us to wrongly believe arrogance is a condition for goodness. I’d like to use Riken Yamamoto and his career to illustrate that that’s not true. It’s possible to have a satisfying career in architecture without being an academic fraud, a corporate yes- man or a media poseur. Who even thought a fourth option existed? Thank you already Riken Yamamoto.

The book begins with a long essay titled The Institutionalization of Architectural Space that has these headings.

  • Our Unawareness of Architectural Space
  • The Institutionalization of Architectural Space
  • Architectural Spaces Are Spaces of Symbols
  • The Institutionalization of Housing
  • Society as Conceived by the Bureaucratic System of Government
  • The Non-Ideological Character of “Designers of Facilities”
  • Infrastructure and Facilities Connected to Infrastructure
  • The Assumption That Architectural Spaces are Facilities
  • Is the Architect a Package Designer?
  • Designing Architectural Space Together with Infrastructure
  • “Local Community Area Model”

Here’s some sentences that provide a flavor of the theme and tone of the essay which is the result of at least 35 years of observation and thought. These aren’t popular stances. They’re not even things you even hear said out loud. It’s obvious Riken Yamamoto is a misfit architect.

  • People are not aware of the fact that they are in architectural spaces and that through the mediation of those spaces they are being managed.
  • The people who appear in architectural spaces are not people with distinct personalities but symbols that adopt the behavior which society has dictated, that is, roles in society.
  • It was hoped that standardized housing would create standardized families and a standardized working force.
  • Design engineers are “tradesmen” who [are made to] complete the institutionalization of architectural spaces at the terminuses of bureaucratic organizations.
  • “Architects and architectural designers in a broad sense may say they will design virtual bodies in the future but they cannot be said to participate any longer in the building of systems on the infrastructure level, in terms of design or content. They are involved only in accidental and arbitrary symbols premised on an endless rotation of the system on an infrastructure level. Architects will become cooks. Architects will no longer be involved in the design of the foundation or core of the system.”
  • The failure of a housing policy that has supplied housing by the “one house = one family” system signifies the failure of the Japanese system of governance.
  • There is today no spatial model to replace the “one house =-n one family” system, even though that system has failed.
  • Architecture is artifact. It is the artifact most central to the creation of the world. Architectural space is the space of our memories. There is no way it should be standard for everyone.

These are all big thoughts. But what about the buildings? How do these big thoughts translate into buildings that either rectify or at least ameliorate the problems identified? The general thrust of the essay is that the spaces of buildings, but particularly of houses, should not comprise isolated, fragmented, identifiable and (thus) controllable facilities but should have a relationship with what is external to them. In other words, a street or a corridor or a shared space is society in miniature and not a representation of it or a symbol for it. I suspect Riken Yamamoto’s refusal to think about and engage with society on the level of representation and symbols is the main reason he is a misfit architect.

Yamamoto’s first published house was the 1977 Yamakawa Villa, designed when he was 32. He says the simple gable roof was the only roof he could think of at the time. He also says this house greatly influenced his subsequent approach. It is outward looking and the terrace from where most of that looking gets done is the main part of the house. The rooms are peripheral.

The next project was Studio Steps. 1978. It was designed as two ateliers with living quarters beneath and behind the stairs used as seating for performances. A large window links this space and the world outside. So far, these two projects both embody Yamamoto’s belief that buildings (and their occupants) should engage with the world around them.

Many of the photographs here are from the website. Recommended, although I wish it had more plans and sections. Much of the website text is from the book.

The 1982 Fuji House has the client’s dental clinic on the ground floor while the living quarters on the upper level are designed to be as lightweight and open as possible. They are also a good example of a dispersed house.

As introduction to Yamamoto’s next project, the 1986 Gazebo, a house for him and his family, the book has an essay titled Community Within a Community but the house itself embodies the introductory essay’s theme. Widening the road outside degraded the street level environment and so, when residents rebuilt their properties, they chose to live on the fourth floors and this is where interaction with neighbours now takes place.

The 1988 Hamlet project is a multi-generational house in which the ground floor and rooftop are the shared spaces. Yamamoto sees it as an archetypal house for how people who choose to live together might dwell.

The 1991 Hotakubo Housing attempted to create a social unit larger than that of an individual house. 110 apartments are arranged around a central courtyard that can only be accessed by passing through one of the apartments. The apartments themselves are split around a central courtyard. It is a proposal for how 110 households might want to live.

The 1992 House in Okayama is another dispersed house, but this time within an enclosure that Yamamoto said he later had second thoughts about.

The 1996 Yamamoto Mental Clinic has a screen of perforated cedar panels that are 35% open to the street. Yamamoto admits this compromise between a completely open building and one completely closed still makes it possible for people on either side to be aware of those on the other.

Three projects, the 1996 Iwadeyama Junior High School and the 1999 Saitama Prefectural University and the 2000 Future University of Hakodate apply this thinking to educational contexts by treating the entire school as a society in miniature. The Iwadeyama project connects different curriculums with 18 shared student lounges, gathering places and a large atrium. A large wall protects from severe winds and bounces light into open spaces in winter.

The Saitama university groups separate departments into a single building sharing a rooftop garden.

The Hakodate university is in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. This is essentially a huge shed organised much like an architect’s office since, he says, we found … researchers work very similar to the way we design, in that students and researchers of the two departments are substantially working together.

Throughout the book are sketches such as these. You don’t see many drawings like this anymore, let alone colored pencil.

Hiroshima West Fire Station, 2000. The building is covered in glass louvres so the area behind them is technically an open area, which means that firefighters can train there in full view of the people on the street, rather than have these important activities hidden around the back of the building. The idea is always the same, but the application of it differs. It is a different way of thinking about how to make architecture.

Twenty five years on, the projects have grown in size and budget but the basic approach of having buildings engage with their communities has been consistent. Yokohama Mitsukyo Housing 2000, is low-rise, high-density and low-cost. Ten houses sharing a common space form a community around which care is organized. More than half the residents live alone and views across courtyards into other apartments are not seen negatively.

Beijing Jian Wai Soho 2004 is a mixed use commercial and residential development in which does without separated communal space for residents in favour of pedestrian public space accessible to all at ground level. To achieve this across the site, all vehicular traffic is diverted to the basement.

The 2001 Ban Building we saw in The Active Band post. These small apartments have their kitchens and bathrooms against the window. I think this is more for the benefit of the people inside than the ones outside. In these more introspective spaces, it’s good to be reminded why one bothers showering and having breakfast, etc. Outside society matters less in the living space.

I’m cherrypicking now. Fussa City Hall 2008 has an accessible planted roof used for public performances and gatherings.

These two sketches have been colored in Photoshop but are no less charming for it.

Architects’ successive projects don’t always get larger and, if they give the appearance of it, it’s often because the smaller ones get refused. This 2008 project titled Dragon Lily’s House is a single family house that states the essence of what Yamamoto had been saying from the outset. One can see why client and architect found each other. It’s no ordinary house anyway, but the kitchen/dining area fronts the street without curtains. A bench outside is for children to sit on the way home from school.

Yamamoto writes, If we call the outside world with a close relationship to the house the local community, then trust in the local community is integral to the makeup of this house. I believe I was asked to design that trust.

Yamamoto’s notion that buildings should enhance their social contexts and work to facilitate this thing called community is a not something that suggests any visual aesthetic. The focus is on a dimension of buildings that’s not a visual one. The projects are often visually striking but as a consequence of pursuing non-visual goals. “Community” is a word we hear much of these days and it’s usually promoted by the state as a good thing when it means less obligation and responsibility for it. Yamamoto is aware of the managerial efficiencies of a fragmented society and also how, with the wrong kind of buildings, architecture continues to deliver the means by which societies are managed. I expect this is be another reason for his relative sidelining when compared with architects who design houses as socially isolated islands whether that isolation be achieved by designing internal aesthetic universes (Shinohara) or physically defensive enclosures (Ando).

Yamamoto also has words to say about how architects tend to design for other architects in their pseudo-community, but I won’t go into that here.

*otaku is the Japanese for any kind of inward looking obsessive. The English “geek” is close in meaning.

The 2010 Pangyo Housing complex shows how this pursuit of community is enhanced in a housing development for 100 households. Three-storey houses share a deck at their middle levels where there are large glazed entrance hallways opening off a shared garden deck. The entrance space has no set use. Below are the living areas and above are bedrooms.

A 2012 text titled How People Live in a Local Community restates the main themes of the essay text.

Today’s system of government is premised on self-help by the one house = one family unit. However, that social unit is becoming increasingly useless. Then what other ways of dwelling are there? What sort of administrative system is possible? Let us consider a unit composed of approximately 500 people. It could just as well be 400 or 700 people. The number will differ depending on the characteristic of the locality. This will be one ”local community area”. What ways of dwelling are possible for these people? What system of mutual-aid can we develop? 

First, housing. Housing for sale is too burdensome for individuals. Such a form of housing is unable to adapt to major social changes. Housing will therefore be for rental. As much space as possible will be given over to common areas, and areas over which individuals have exclusive rights will be made small. Here, we call the housing from which the local community area is composed ”ie”. An ”ie” is made up of a ”mise”and a ”nema”. This room organization is entirely different from that of the traditional LDK-type unit (Living- Dining- Kitchen). The “mise” is glazed on the outside. The “nema” is a highly private place. People are free to rent space any way they want. They can, for example, rent a large “mise” portion and use it literally as a shop. It can also be used as an office or an atelier. Or it can be a porch-like space where an elderly person can take a nap or a child can play. People can also rent a large “nema” portion and create an “ie” that is like a highly private traditional house. Toilets, showers and mini-kitchens will be shared. Toilets and showers will be made as spacious as possible and provided in sufficient numbers.

Even so, this arrangement will be far more efficient than providing such facilities for each one house = one family unit. The relationship between areas over which individuals have exclusive rights and shared areas has been completely reconsidered. Relationships having to do with energy, transportation, care, nursing, welfare and local economy on which one house = one family was premised have been all reconsidered. Those reconsidered relationships constitute a local community area.

The 2012 Gangnam Housing in Korea proposes making housing multifunctional in character. Housing will no longer be simply a place where the family lives and raises children. A new system can be created by opening up housing to the local community through diverse activities, so that even people living by themselves do not remain isolated. Again, shared decks are used to connect dwellings that aren’t exclusively dwellings.

The book I borrowed was published in 2012 when The Circle at Zurich Airport was still just a competition win. Completed last year, it’s business centre, hotel, entertainment centre and shopping mall all in one. However, to say that openings and internal streets divide the building into distinct parts that still combine to make a whole with an identity is to talk of the building as a representation of a society, not the reality of one.

Given the current state of the airline industry, how successful The Circle will be remains to be seen but I suspect having its amenities available to everyone and not just airport users was not just some lucky call. From what I’ve learned, Yamamoto would have wanted it that way. I’m happy Riken Yamamoto has managed to attract the clients he has, and has responded to their requirements (and those of others) in the ways he has. He has a winning formula, one that he had from the beginning, and one that more people need to know about.

Riken Yamamoto
15 April 1945 ~ 

for showing us other ways of generating architecture

misfits salutes you!

• • •


Architecture Misfit #39: Juliaan Lampens

Since April 2017 there had been a draft post on Belgian architect Juliaan Lampens and, as I don’t follow online architectural media, only found out a week ago that he died last year – though knowing that at the time wouldn’t have changed anything. This post began as a career case study but it soon became clear Lampens was Architecture Misfit #39.

Lampens’ built work is accomplished and frequently inspired and unique but what makes him special is his relationship with his career. Very early on he discovered what made sense to him and never deviated from the pursuit of that. There’s no journey of artistic progression to see, report, theorize or otherwise consume. The house he designed for himself in 1960 and lived in for the next sixty years is not that different from the last house he designed in 2002. His projects have no social agenda other than not spoiling the landscape in which they are placed. He felt no need to devise and espouse a theory. He did not travel to seek commissions beyond the town of Ghent where he was born, lived, worked and died. He avoided all publicity so he wouldn’t be compared to others and he avoided having his projects published in magazines so they wouldn’t be compared to each other. His only marketing was the buildings themselves and client’ word-of-mouth. He gave two interviews. In 2011 when he was 85 he was interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist for a monograph. The other was in 2014 for Japanese magazine a+u. Lampens was content to live in the one place and design buildings for the people that asked him to. It’s probably not possible to be this kind of architect anymore. I hope I’m wrong.

Obituaries all told much the same story and, though I’m not disputing the facts, I’m uneasy about their lack of variation.

  1. Lampens was a Brutalist architect, little known outside Belgium.
  2. Lampens’ first buildings were traditional in style but in 1958 he visited the Brussels Expo and decided he was some sort of Modernist.
  3. Lampens developed his own personal style of raw concrete and monolithic buildings resembling fortresses or bunkers that blend in their context and natural landscape.

This narrative is usually illustrated with the following buildings.

1960: Own House, Eke, Belgium

Like many architects, Lampens designed his own house as a statement of what he believed in architecturally and so function as a word-of-mouth marketing tool for further business. It worked. It was open plan, as Lampens’ later houses tended to be, and its concrete roof was supported by brick walls. He believed buildings should be sculpture that should enhance their surroundings. This is all the theory we get.

photo: Dieter Lampens

In the photo at left, below, note the irregular ceiling arrangement of what look like bricks but are probably light fittings.

The plan already shows many features Lampens would re-use. Most noticeable is a simple shape for the enclosure and a minimum of internal planning within that, along with a lack of emphasis on furniture placement. Both suggest an interest in designing structures that can be arbitrarily inhabited – at least conceptually.

1966: The chapel of Our Blessed Lady of Kerselare Edelare, Belgium

Here we get to see more concrete in a manner we associate with Kenzo Tange and a purpose we associate with Le Corbusier. The planning is not that different from the 1960 house.. This links to a heritage management plan containing much information [in Dutch] about this building.

1967: Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House Zingem, Belgium

An article in Wallpaper* said “Through his architecture Lampens championed a family-focused and egalitarian way of living that went against the grain of his contemporaries’ bourgeois emphasis on individuality and hierarchy”. This is a reference to the Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House in which a family of six lived in a 14m x 14m space without conventional markers of visual or aural privacy.

The only fixed elements are three half-closed concrete cylinders that rise from the floor to house the bath, toilet and the staircase to the cellar. The kitchen is semi-enclosed by a square of walls hanging from the ceiling. Everything else in the house can be reorganized around these elements. The free-standing timber units are bedroom furniture with beds attached. It’s been only eight years since Lampens started his practice and already he’s making some very strong decisions.

This plan shows how the house is organized. It’s not large. The roof drains into the circular pond via a device we’ve just seen in the chapel. Note the boundary between the hard and soft landscaping.

1968: House Diane Lampens Gavere, Belgium

The brick walls, tile floor, metal fireplace, timber ceiling and timber room divider/furniture partitions show Lampens sense for all materials, not just concrete. He seems to have intuitively understood that a variety of different materials in close proximity always suggests abundance even when none of them are premium materials. We would call it a Scandinavian use of materials if the internal walls were painted white. (You won’t see paint in any of the buildings here.)

This interest in materials extended to steel, stainless steel, ceramic tile, timber and plastic laminate, all of which you can see in this kitchen. Again, the house has its living functions conceptually separate yet internal to the enclosure.

1970: Eke Public Library Eke, Belgium

The library interior features Lampens’ characteristic timber ceilings with circular roof lights, an irregular pattern of ceiling light fixtures and some magnificent timber shelves.

1973: House Derwael–Thienpont Gavere, Belgium

Here, again, we have a house with a concrete roof of which little is seen, as well as a timber ceiling, tile floor and timber fittings. Lampens’ preference was to use timber for ceilings and the parts of the building people came into contact with. A entrance door would never be metal.

Lampens believed every drawing should be beautiful.

In these next two images we again see that irregular arrangement of ceiling lights. [I like this idea. All too many rooms nowadays have recessed downlights placed in thoughtless grids across entire ceilings, providing uniform illumination as if living rooms were offices with no such thing as a dark corner.]

1974: Van Wassenhove House Laethem-Saint-Martin (near Ghent), Belgium

This house is said to be Lampens’ masterpiece. From the street approach it does the bunker thing, and this time we see nothing but concrete and a timber door.

The plan is characteristic yet different at the same time. Again, note that boundary between the hard and soft landscaping. The window wall faces due south.

The open plan has several levels and a timber cylinder enclosing the bed. The study overlooks the living space.

1988: House De La Ruelle–Van Moffaert Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium

This house has several features we now associate with Lampens – the circular roof light, the use of timber in the interior, the irregular arrangement of ceiling lights, the open plan, the concern for rainwater. What’s different is the use of long pieces of precast concrete stacked like logs.

This house is a concrete block addition to an existing prefabricated timber structure and perhaps because of that, plans are hard to come by.

1990: House LampensDieter Gavere, Belgium

This house was for one of Lampens’ sons. Again, plans are difficult to find.

2002: House VelgheVerlinden Deinze, Belguim

This was Lampens’ last house and it’s remarkable for how much it has in common with his first house from 1960. There is still a blank wall on the public side of the house while the other sides are as open as possible. In the case of this house, the blank wall is perhaps most justifiable but no conclusion can be made without seeing the site boundaries and access road.

It’s also the only house I’ve seen where there is an internal 45° corner, turned rather effortlessly by the kitchen and table.

This time there’s not one but two exaggerated rainwater spouts. The arrangement of light fittings on the ceiling was always one of those inexplicable design decisions that can be neither justified nor criticized – it just is. This enclosed yard outside the bathroom is another.

Here’s what we have.

1950-1960: unrecorded early houses
1960: Own House, Eke, Belgium
1966: The chapel of Our Blessed Lady of Kerselare Edelare, Belgium
1967: Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House Zingem, Belgium
1968: House Diane Lampens Gavere, Belgium
1970: Eke Public Library Eke, Belgium
1973: House Derwael–Thienpont Gavere, Belgium
1974: Van Wassenhove House Laethem-Saint-Martin (near Ghent), Belgium
1988: House De La Ruelle–Van Moffaert Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium
1990: House Dieter Lampens Gavere, Belgium
2002: House VelgheVerlinden Deinze, Belguim

The absence of information on the early houses we can perhaps excuse, although they’re probably nothing to be ashamed of. However, if Lampens’ own house was finished in 1960, then it was six years before his next known building, the chapel was finished. After that, there was one commission every year or two until Van Wassenhove House was completed In 1974. This suggests a sole practitioner or a very small office. The gap between 1974 and 1988 corresponds to Lampens beginning teaching in 1974 at his former school, the Institut Saint-Luc in Ghent. He designed three more houses over the period 1985-2002. Now, there’s nothing compelling architects to be compulsively prolific but Lampens’ reputation seems to rest on one chapel, one public library, and eight houses of which one was for himself and two others for relatives. On the basis of cashflow alone, this simply isn’t possible and can’t be anywhere near the full story. Next week’s post will hopefully redress the balance and give a fuller picture of Lampens’ career so we can better learn from it.

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Juliaan Lampens
1 Jan. 1926 – 6 Nov. 2019

for keeping it simple

misfits salutes you!

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