415, 04:05 Three emerging practices

publisher: a+u
ISSN: 0389-9160
out of stock

How did you come to form your office and pursue architecture as a profession?

The first project we ever entailed was the founding of the office. The office in itself is an ongoing project – like a pair of glasses we wear to look at the world. There was no real sustainable idea behind this founding action. The name ‘51N4E’ is derived from the world coordinates of Brussels. For us Brussels – the city where we work from - evokes an ambition, it’s a city of different realities. Brussels is a paradigm, rather than a specific location, a freedom. Apart from this self-generated freedom we wanted to pursue this action within a professional discourse which could enable us to broach a wide array of subject matters. Architecture seemed, and proves to be, the ideal profession for this attitude.


What are your philosophies of architecture?

We don’t have so much philosophies of architecture, more philosophies of space production within reality. As space producers we concern ourselves with matters of architecture, urbanism, (non)design, imagery and other – currently unpredictable – space-related issues. Up till now the office’s agenda has been univocally inclusive and implicit – an apparent ‘choosing not to choose’. In fact, we are driven by an intuition for the disparity of opportunities heading our way. An essential part of being able to respond to reality is to be able to exclude yourself from it. Once secluded you can start to ‘play’, which basically resumes to testing and inventing new possibilities of how the world could work. The confrontation of the work produced at the office and the outside world is always a very powerful moment, be it good or bad. We already had experiences where both suddenly create a new direction to be pursued, culminating in a tremendous and very rewarding release of energy. Equally we had the experience of the work being completely at odds with reality. All depends on the specific situation, we don’t necessarily have a preference.


How do you work with your partner(s)?

Our internal partnership is crucial to the office. Equally as important are our multiple alliances with external intelligence. At the office each partner is responsible for specific projects, yet is informed and consulted on all projects happening. The deal is to find ways of communicating project progress in an efficient and direct manner. This collective approach enables us to step forward as an office, and not as a set of individuals.


What do you believe are the most important things and issues at present? (not limited to architecture).

Defining workable stances on Europe (its ongoing conception), PNAC (project for a new American Century), the Tiger Economy, the collapse of Africa,…


Do you feel a difference between generations? And what are the topics currently discussed among architects of your generation?

It is not so much a question of generations; it is more about attitude, a vigilant attitude. We encounter ‘older’ architects with incredibly prompt visions, as we encounter ‘young’ architects with extremely feeble demeanors. It is not the ‘old’ versus the ‘young’. All comes down to communication. As 51N4E we strongly believe in briefing the world (professional and other) about what you are doing. We work in a public capacity, so it’s our job to communicate; it being between ‘old’ and ‘young’ architects or between architects and the public.



What do you believe influences the making of your architecture?

The world, and beyond.



Within the progress of globalization, what do you feel is the overall current state of regionalism for young architects? Also, how do you express regionalism in your work?

Regionalism can be of interest when it applies to the work, not to the office. We can’t understand the so-called ‘regional’ categorizations which try to bring together haphazard offices, just because they are located within a specific area. As to our projects, we feel that they very much deal with the specific context they are in. We believe this is crucial to be able to produce instigating space. This doesn’t mean however that we limit ourselves to the reproduction of existing contextual aspects. Our approach is more of a challenge to the context, using the context’s (hidden) layers in such a way that the project and the context become equal conditions. We create context.


What is your design process from early sketches to building construction?

Every project in its conception phase - whether it’s architecture, urbanism and design or communication strategies – is dealt with by the core team (3 partners). From there on a project director is assigned and a team assembled. The design team focuses heavily on investigation and experiment. The proposal has to prove itself amidst a panoptical series of proposals. Once the design phase is concluded we prefer to outsource a part of the job, knowing we keep supervision of the project throughout the whole process. On site the project director and his collaborators work side by side with the external experts (energy consultants, façade consultants, …).


What are your visions/plans for the future?

The office has just won some important competitions, so the coming time we will be working on those projects as well as the office management. As plans for the future are concerned, we keep on being interested in generating interesting questions dealing with the production of space. These questions can and shall be of very different nature and scale - nationally and internationally.