Tag Archives: does one have to be an unknown architect to be an architecture misfit?

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 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wakiiii/6934444846) [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:

  1. https://www.interactiongreen.com/house-prof-saito-kiyoshi-seike-walter-gropius/
  2. https://fumiakira.blogspot.com/2020/04/seike-kiyoshi-my-house.html
  3. https://www.wbw.ch/en/magazine/reports/original-texts/2015-12-recognition-and-delineation.html
  4. https://www.sohu.com/a/406310426_659274
    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 riken-yamamoto.c.jp 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!

• • •


Career Case Study #9: Juliaan Lampens

In the 2011 book, Angelique Campens compiled a list of projects and buildings that Lampens acknowledged, suggesting the existence of others either forgotten or unmemorable. I’ve combined her list with one from a 2019 Bachelor’s thesis by Andrea Ligao of the Politecnico di Milano and that includes some of the more obscure projects and competition entries. [Nice work, Andrea!] In my list below, any building we saw in the last post and that’s part of the narrative will be bolded, and any competitions or unbuilt work will be italicized. The buildings we saw last week are only a small part of a larger picture. I’ve repeated this list, with images, at the end of the post. You’ll see from the unbuilt work and the unpublished projects that there’s recurring themes and preoccupations for the writers of future monographs to theorize about. As it stands, the list is still an approximation but the early years now look more realistic although there was a lean period 1951–1958. The 1958 Expo surely inspired Lampens because soon after is a flurry of international competitions as well as his own house from 1960 that began his career proper. 1974 marked the beginning of Lampens’ teaching career but the practice was busier than ever. I’d expect Lampens to have employed at least one senior architect and one junior architect from the mid-1960s, and possibly one or two more for the period 1975–1980.

JULIAAN LAMPENS: List of Projects

1945Small Family house, Nazareth, East Flanders
1948Two-Family House Knudde, Nazareth, East Flanders
1950[establishment of practice]
Single-family house
Single-family house
Three terraced houses
1951Van Hove Clothing Shop, Nazareth, East Flanders
1953Doctor’s House Vermaerke, Nazareth, East Flanders
1957National Housing Institute: The Modern Ardennes House (special mention for originality)
1958House Cooreman, De Pinte
1959Thirty-nine small land-ownership houses, De Pinte
1960The European Home Competition, Preliminary design for an apartment building (third place)
National Architecture Competition: Sports Centre at the Watersportbaan, Ghent
Lampens House, Van Hove, Nazareth, East Flanders
1961International architecture competition: Euratom European Institute for Transuranium Elements, Karlsruhe
1962House Delbeke, Kortrijk
1964International architecture competition: Madrid Opera House, Madrid
1966The Chapel of Our Blessed Lady of Kerselare, Edelare, Belgium
House Dhondt, Sax, Oosterzele
1967Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House, Zingem, Belgium
House Vierstraete, Gand
1968House Diane Laampens, Gavere, Belgium
House Claus, Maarkedal
Sint-Kruis~Male Church, Bruges
House Claus, Etikove, Maarkedal
1969House De Vos-Smesman, Eke (Nazareth)
House Pijpaert with butcher’s, Nazareth
Residenze estive Sint-André, Koksijde (Apartments, Oostduunkerke)
1970Eke Public Library, Eke, Belgium
House Jozef Vandenhaute, Zingem
1971Country House Claus, Maarkedal
1972National architecture competition: University Institute Antwerpen (Wilrijk)
Reception area for tourism office, Blankenberge
1973House Derwael–Thienpont, Gavere, Belgium
House Jozef Claus (Zero) with Factory, Eke (Nazareth)
House Bauters, Maarkedal
Extension to House Vanhove–Volkaert, Eke (Nazareth)
1974Van Wassenhove House, Laethem-Saint-Martin (near Ghent), Belgium
1975House Libeert, Komen
National architecture competition: City Hall and Administrative Centre, Lokeren
1976House/Atelier Wallaert, Wannegem–Lede
House VandenHaute-Vereecken A, De Pinte
Studio and house for the painter Wallaert, Wannegem-Lede
1977International architecture competition: Pahlavi National Library Project, Tehran, Iran
1978House De Meyere–Dhondt, Merelbeke
House Merckaert, Geraardsdbergen
Loft Lauwers (a.k.a. House in Lauwers Hangar), Nazareth  
National Boerenkrijg Museum (a collaboration with Jo Van Den Berghe)
1981Architecture competition: Sint-Lucas Secondary Art School, Ghent
1983International Architecture competition: Social housing for Stawion, Amsterdam
1988House De La Ruelle–Van Moffaert, Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium
1990House Wouter/Dierick Lampens. Semmerzake
1992House Dieter/Hartmann Lampens, Semmerzake
1997International architecture competition: Art & Music Centre,, Javäskylä (Finaland)
2002House Velghe–Verlinden, Deinze, Belguim
2002House Vandenhaute-Van Eylen, Leuven (collaboration with Luc De Vos)
2012House Russo, Uccle (collaboration with Luc De Vos)
Monument E17, Nazareth (collaboration with Luc De Vos)

Lampens produced 57 projects, 11 of which were competitions. Of the 46 commissions, 41 were built and 5 not. Of those 41, Lampens looks like being remembered by only nine of them. Although four of that nine are heritage protected, any nine projects could be used to illustrate any number of narratives, if narratives are what we want, and if narratives are what an architect’s career is supposed to condense into.

Lampens was born near Ghent, went to school in Ghent, had a practice near Ghent, and died near Ghent.

Born in 1926, he was 24 when he started his practice in 1950. This part of architects’ careers is often undocumented. Starting a practice is always made to sound so simple. I’d always believed that as soon as there’s one job underway and the promise of a next then it’s as good a time as any to start a practice. Because Lampens never moved far from Ghent, I’d expect he had a supportive family that gave him the confidence if not also some early clients and financial security but this wasn’t the case. He was studying art at the Higher Institute for Art and Vocational Training of the Sint-Lucas School in Ghent and a teacher there suggested to Lampens’ father that his son enrol in the architectural course “because he was such a good draftsman”. It must have been a good call because Lampens completed his first house before he finished his studies.

Lampens’ first buildings were traditional in style …

Biographies usually have a sentence that goes like this. “Having been profoundly influenced by his experience of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, Lampens subsequently made a radical change of course and built his own house in 1960, which represented a major turning point in his career.” Or this: “Although he started his career with more traditional architecture, Lampens’ visit to Expo 58 in Brussels changed his architectural style to brutalism and concrete, much like the styles of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.” We’re then told that his first house for himself in 1960 was very unlike anything he did prior to 1958.

… but in 1958 when Lampens visited the Brussels Expo he decided he was some sort of Modernist.

It’s never made clear what the catalyst for this change might have been for the Brussels Expo was as eclectic as any exposition before or after. Despite its dramatic cantilevery, something of Mies van Der Rohe might have been visible in the West German Pavilion by Egon Eiermann & Sep Ruf but, as a style, Le Corbusier was absent, instead being represented by Iannis Xenakis who was working in his office at the time. Lampens was to do nothing like The Philips Pavilion and nor, for that matter was LC. Lampens was to resist imitating the decorative CMU of of Edward Durrell Stone’s US Pavilion. He was to shun the shell concrete forms that architects of the time were exploring, notably Eero Saarinen in the US and Roy Grounds in Australia.

Although Lampens was to be later associated with concrete, he had no time for the audacious structural expressionism that concrete enabled. The Mexican Pavilion by architects Rafael Mijares Alcerreca and Pedro Ramirez Vasquez was particularly accomplished but we see nothing of it in Lampens’ later work and if he saw something in Kunio Maekawa’s Japan Pavilion, he never mentioned it. Finally, we have never again seen the likes The Atomium, from Lampens or anyone else.

It’s not necessary for Lampens to have been influenced by anything or anyone specific as the enthusiasm and optimism of the Expo might have been all he needed, although it’s true that optimism was largely conveyed by non-traditional architecture. Lampens is quoted as saying “Every healthy Belgian visited the world’s fair. It was due in part to the world expo of modern architectural styles that such work became accepted and established in Belgium. The masses saw the possibilities of technology and started to believe in modern architecture and I felt that the climate was ready to build in a modern way in Belgium.” We do know that Lampens was impressed with the Norwegian Pavilion designed by Sverre Fehn and saw its potential for structures that were light and open.

The 1958 Norwegian Pavilion by Sverre Fehn is not to be confused with the 1962 Nordic Pavilion Fehn designed for Venice.

“He constantly tried to reach an absolute reconciliation in the antagonism between Le Corbusier’s whimsy and Mies van der Rohe’s control.”

from the online magazine Maniera!

I only include this quote to show how the names of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe can be used to say pretty much anything about anyone, and drag them back towards these two as if they are some points of reference universally, instead of just in our minds. I don’t understand why this has to be, or what problem this solves. If Lampens encountered Fehr’s Norwegian Pavilion and something suddenly made sense to him, then that’s where we need to start. Everything else is a discussion about Fehr for some other time.

Lampens developed his own personal style of raw concrete and monolithic buildings resembling fortresses or bunkers that blend in their context and natural landscape.

The nearby coastlines of Belgium, France and The Netherlands are littered with WWII bunkers that are indeed massive, monolithic, mute, protective and made of concrete, as fortifications tend to be. These next three photographs by Jonathan Andrew, of some in France, convey the architectonic dimension of these structures.

“For Lampens, these constructions on the Atlantic coast constituted the most beautiful examples of brutalism. Though not directly associated with brutalism, the architecture of Juliaan Lampens stands as a significant variant of this style: materially in his use of raw concrete, and formally in his deployment of the bunker typology. For some time he experimented with raw concrete in order to develop his style of bunker-like exteriors combined with open vistas and sculptural motifs.”

from the online magazine Maniera!

However, if fortresses and bunkers blend in with their landscape it is because at the time they were camouflaged to do so. In the 2013 interview Laampens said he had seen these structures disguised as houses during the war, and then revealed later when the bricks were reused post-war. Let’s keep it real. Bunkers as we know them do not have a harmonious connection between the interior and exterior and they do not blend in with the landscape. It’s said Lampens liked the materiality of concrete, but … is this a word he would have used? Does materiality mean anything more than a material’s physical qualities (but mostly looks) and what’s possible with it? The 2002 House Velghe–Verlinden is not world’s apart from his own house from 1960 and three other of his most well-known houses in-between.

Laampens was a Brutalist.

Lampens’ own house of 1960 has no audacity of shape on the outside, and there’s little sense of concrete on the inside. In the first image below, the wall with the bookshelves is concrete on the outside and lined with timber on this inside. This is not something we associate with Brutalism, or even Modernism where the conceit of having inside and outside space “flow into one another” means no such distinction is drawn. It is true that Lampens’ houses have large areas of glazing but it is rare to have an intermediate space such as a terrace or covered porch. I expect this is because In Belgium (as in the UK) the weather is such that many a garden is best appreciated from indoors.

But Lampens did produce some buildings that resonate with the popular understanding of Brutalism as aggressive and audacious shape-making and it’s these buildings that, more often than not, have concrete as a strong presence inside and fit the current understanding of Brutalism.

Some people won’t see the wood for the concrete but much of Lampens’ work makes strong use of timber and would not be called Brutalist by any definition. Loft Lauwens (circa 1974) is a good example. It’s only publication is in a Japanese magazine, perhaps because the Japanese are less preoccupied with what’s concrete and what’s not. Loft Lauwens is a house built inside an industrial shed has an exposed truss amongst much timber. The effect is neither industrial nor organic. Lampens was quoted as saying he prefers timber for the parts of buildings people touch but the stair handrail is metal. [I’d also said you won’t see any paint in a Lampens building but here you do on both walls and handrail.]

The 1966 House Diane Lampens is never mentioned as representative of Lampens’ sensitivity to all materials. The problem with calling Lampens a Brutalist is that we can’t accept his use of brick, or timber, or anything other than concrete. This is a problem with us, our insistence on classifications, and only acknowledging content that fits them.

The public library in Eke has a diminished internet presence. It appears disused – I’m speculating because of a universal access problem. The building is also not well represented on the internet, and this is almost certainly due to the adjacent building destroying what seems to have been an important design consideration. The concrete block walls no doubt reduced costs in this small library and explains why off-form concrete is used only for the architectural event of the street frontage. This necessitated a change of materials at the corner and the design sketch shows Laampens was aware of this. The concrete block was to have its revenge. I don’t know what the truth is. The adjacent land may have been municipal property when the library was commissioned.

The 1966 chapel is another building that’s an important part of the Lampens as Brutalist narrative but we’ll probably see more historic photographs being used to maintain this narrative. Recent photos show the concrete roof should have had its materiality sustained by a bit more material. Bunkers still litter coastlines for a reason. The yellow supports are thoughtfully designed and positioned as if they’re going to be around for quite some time. That roof’s not going to be made good without major pain.

He experimented with raw concrete in order to develop his style of bunker-like exteriors combined with open vistas and sculptural motifs.

This quote I’ve just included so I can talk more about bunkers, enclosure and what goes on inside. The first image below is Lampens’ entry for a 1957 competition The Modern Ardennes House. It has an shell envelope enclosing some living functions independent of it. Lampen’s 1960 house has a concrete on steel frame envelope enclosing some living functions clustered around a central core. The layout of the 1966 chapel is not that different.

This idea of separating enclosure and habitation was in the air at the time, reappearing again in 1965 by François Dallegret’s 1965 illustrations for Reyner Banham’s article “A Home is Not a House“.

The 1967 Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House has an enclosure of concrete on glass and the most independent of layouts yet. The 1968 House Diane Lampens is tucked into a corner of a spiral wall with only one side open and the internal walls separating the living functions do not confuse this separation.

An earlier iteration of 1974 Van Wassenhove House is configured the same way with the emphasis on a protecting wall enclosing a conceptually independent interior configuration. It’s basically what any house is – an enclosure that can be lived in. The layout of the Van Wassenhove House as-built is no different. However, the orientation is. The unbuilt plan has the bedroom and study facing south and the living/dining-kitchen facing but most likely with borrowed light from the south. The built layout has the living area facing east while the bedroom and bathroom are lit from the west, with borrowed light to the living area. This is made possible of course, by the bedroom and bathroom walls not being full height.

This is something we’ve seen coming in the 1967 Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House.

These next photographs show the east-west change in the daylighting. I suspect those 45° walls in the roof section above function as reflectors as well as spatial transitions.

These next photographs of the least photographed corners of this house show just how much of that daylight there is.

Those next images taken at dusk also show the house as a lived-in thing. You won’t see many staged photographs of Lampens’ houses upon their completion and this is because of his disinterest in having photographs of them published.