Expressiveness, rawness and light

TEXT: MICHIEL STOL | PHOTOS © ARCHITECTS IN MOTION

Light is probably one of the most important tools for an architect. Both natural and artificial light are elements that give any type of building its soul. “The best natural light in the world I found in Brazil. It gave me so much inspiration for my work,” explains Bart Janssens, associate and co-founder of Architects in Motion (AIM) in Turnhout, one of the leading architectural firms in Belgium.

Brazil has always been a personal inspiration for Janssens, ever since he started travelling there years ago. “The architecture of the country attracted me from the moment I came into contact with it, especially the architecture in the capital Brasilia and the works of Oscar Niemeyer, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Artigas, Lima and the gardens of Burle Marx. It is about expressive buildings and the way they work with light and raw materials. I have not seen any better natural light, that enhances the materials and composition, in my life than I have in Brazil. It gives the architecture so much more soul.”

That Brazilian building style resembles a lot of the building style from the 1960s in Belgium, in which the DNA from Architects in Motion resides and how they design today. “It is what became known as ‘the School of Turnhout’: buildings and houses with an expressive and straightforward character, with the use of raw materials like brick and mortar and the use of natural light. Back then, people spoke about ‘brutalism’. I would not call it that anymore. Architecture has evolved so much that you cannot speak of one movement or another anymore.”

AIM and Turnhout

The architect firm in its current shape was formed in 2002, by Bart Janssens and Luc Vanhout, son of renowned architect Carli Vanhout, one of the masters of the School of Turnhout. “AIM is a horizontally structured group of architect-specialists, with six partners managing the projects. In total, AIM has a team of 30 ambitious and talented young people.” Building projects, whether public or private, architects now have to deal with a lot more rules and regulations than they used to. So it is necessary have to have someone overseeing the project and the builders. “Sometimes it makes you feel that as an architect, your creativity is being blocked. On the other hand, it forces you to evolve.”

AIM is situated in an office complex that was designed in 1965, in the School of Turnhout-style by Carli Vanhout. The building exists of large concrete parts and many windows. Vanhout sr. was responsible for a lot of buildings in Turnhout and the Kempen region at that time, including cultural centre De Warande in the heart of Turnhout. In 2015, AIM won a competition to redesign the building, particularly the concert hall, which officially opened this September. “De Warande is a perfect example of autonomous structures, constructed in a solid way and connected with each other. Our redesign has kept that feel of raw expression, but brought it back to this age. It feels much more ‘lighter’ and welcoming now,” smiles Janssens.

That was also the aim for a new well-being campus, situated in Turnhout as well. “This is a place that facilitates people who sometimes don’t have a home or just need some extra help. We wanted to make it as open as possible, a place where everybody feels welcome. We used a lot of light and round shapes, because that fitted with its surroundings, especially with the neighbouring former water tower.” Janssens explains.

The Brazilian connection extended

During an architectural trip to Brazil in 2016, Janssens came into contact with architect Igor Campos, manager of Estúdio MRGB based in Brasilia. Janssens developed a special interest in the contemporary architecture of Campos and his colleagues. “The language of forms and the approach of the Brazilian architecture of the past and present felt very close to me and to Architects in Motion,” he elaborates.

Janssens and Campos formed a friendship, which led to an integrated collaboration between the two firms. “We have online meetings to discuss ongoing projects and share thoughts and concepts with each other. It is inspiring to both of our teams and helps each of us to evolve and create amazing new designs. Soon, a team of AIM will visit Brazil. What started as trips for personal inspiration, I now have to share with my colleagues,” Janssens concludes with a smile.

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