We probably don't have to tell you who Vincent Van Duysen is anymore. With his beautiful, serene projects, this Belgian architect conquered the national and international world of interior design and architecture. Imagicasa is proud to highlight the story and impressive projects of this talented and acclaimed architect.
Van Duysen carries out various projects, both residential and commercial. Since every project is unique, he doesn't really have a favourite. But if he had to choose one, he would say his own home: "An urban oasis, my place to unwind.” His works include architecture as well as interior and objects with the same key elements that are important to him: form, geometric order and context. His ultimate goal is always to improve the quality of the 'abitare', the lives of those who experience it. He has many sources of inspiration and is greatly influenced by modernist architects whose work was a cross-over of fluidity, sensuality and material substance. Think of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Luis Barragán, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Dom Hans van der Laan and Peter Zumthor. According to Van Duysen, there are too many to mention.
Vincent Van Duysen was also mentor and employer of several leading designers who now have successful architecture and interior design firms of their own. Dieter Vander Velpen, Glenn Sestig, Marc Merckx and Nicolas Schuybroeck – their stories can be read elsewhere in this edition – first worked for Van Duysen. "I'm proud of that, great painters used to have pupils too," he says.
Imagicasa spoke to this top Belgian architect about his passionate career in an exclusive interview.
How does it feel to make a name for yourself abroad as a Belgian and how did you grow to this international fame?
"This went very exponentially. Thanks to the publication of my first home in Antwerp in the British Elle Decoration, when Ilse Crawford was still editor of the magazine, I was contacted fairly quickly by foreign clients and international recognition has grown exponentially since. My style then: desaturated colours, natural materials, rich texture palette and soberly designed interiors. A style in which I have been very consistent in the long term. That's why I reached the world quite quickly. The international recognition has come very fast and this gives a lot of satisfaction. In January, I won the ‘Henry van de Velde Lifetime Achievement Award' and it is an honour for me to be appreciated for my work in my own country too.”
Do you prefer to work in Belgium or abroad?
"My home is where my heart lies, but that doesn't stop me from crossing the world in search of new traditions and innovations to challenge myself in my design process. At the moment, I am lucky to have the opportunity to design typologies that I have never done before and to keep a perfect balance between my projects in Belgium and abroad.”
Is there a difference between international and national projects in terms of style or approach?
"The goal is to create tailor-made environments for each individual form. All my projects have a constant. But they also show a good understanding of the needs and context to be addressed. The style is always extended, inspired by the culture of the place. Each individual has a different set of requirements around which I have to create my projects and of course there is also the context that influences the nature of the project. My style and process are constant, both at home and abroad.”
My architectural language does not shy away from aesthetics but can withstand fashion and trends.
What is your design philosophy?
"I would define my style philosophy as the use of pure and tactile materials that result in a clear and timeless design. My approach encompasses all aspects of design, relating to context and tradition, in which the senses and physical experience of space, materials and light put the user first. Functionality, durability and comfort are the most important components of my work. My architectural language does not shy away from aesthetics but can withstand fashion and trends.”
We understand you prefer not to describe your designs as 'minimalistic', how would you describe your style yourself?
"That depends on the interpretation of the word minimalism. I like to work with layering and contrast to achieve a kind of warm sensuality. In that sense I do not fall under minimalism. I do not care much for minimalist, down-to-earth interiors. I want soul. But it is not always about a multitude of materials. I would describe it more as 'essentialism': getting to the core through which authenticity, simplicity and purity is achieved. My attention goes out to a purity in aesthetics.”
What is the style of your own home? "My home is a constant source of inspiration for me. I worked with a very Belgian palette that combines roughly woven textures, but also very natural, smooth surfaces such as plaster, wide poplar floorboards and Belgian bluestone. I wanted to refer to the rich architectural history of the house, but also create a serene space in which modern art and furniture could be comfortable and feel timeless.”
You are known for your hyper-detailed and unique finish. How do you achieve this?
"I design a home like a piece of furniture. The attention to detail and materials are the elements I strive for in my architecture. This is achieved by finding a balance between what is enough and what is too much. It is a process of finding the right stratification and proportion of materials to bring space to its essence. You have to work out the details until only the essence remains.”
How do you create that feeling of peace and serenity in your projects?
"When I refine the superfluous, I focus more on the fundamental aspects of life that I find most important: eating, sleeping and conversing. I mainly try to balance the spaces and work with subtle contrasts and colours. Usually, I use a monochrome palette with very subtle variations. The use of natural materials such as wood and natural stone, traditional materials, is also important. I do not decorate. I limit myself to furniture, books and art.”
What kind of projects do you prefer to do?
"Every project is unique and it is always so important to connect the project with its culture. At the same time, one has to take into account the context, location, relationships, program and assignment and this diversity always results in projects that stand out and are fully customised. I like to be as attentive as possible and have a strong visual approach. I regularly meet with my team to discuss ideas and directions to achieve a shared vision.” Has your style or approach evolved or changed over time?
"I'm constantly working on the design process. In my head I am constantly shaping. I like to keep a story in the back of my mind while designing. I want to be a storyteller. Because it's not always about the pragmatic, but about the soul. With respect for tradition and the familiar framework, a project always needs something unexpected, in addition to the comfort of use. Something that creates an emotional connection. In my opinion, that aspect is precisely what gives a project its timeless character. I notice the evolution myself when I put my monographs next to each other, the projects are more 'mature' now. Compared to ten years ago, my creative process is much broader than architecture and interior design. Among other things, I am creative director of Molteni&C/Dada and artistic director of Sahco (Kvadrat).”
You have already achieved a lot, but what is still on your design bucket list?
"I would love to realise a shelter in nature, where you can retreat. Away from the busy business life and all its distractions. Something very poetic but in my own design language. I would also love to design a place where you can relax. I want it to be related to art or sculptures, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a gallery or museum.”
This interview was originally published in Imagicasa Magazine Spring 2019