A conversation with Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem. "PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE"

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architecten Robbrecht en Daem

Robbrecht en Daem architecten, founded in 1975 by Paul Robbrecht (1950) and Hilde Daem (1950), has developed a set of mature works that can be maintained on the international scene. The broad international portfolio comprises an impressive number of architecture and infrastructure projects, interiors and landscapes. The constant quality of the realizations is always the result of a precise architectural vision that has characterized the practice from the beginning and that to this day constitutes the basis of a meticulous approach to the project.

The founding duo was behind some highly discussed exhibition scenery and in 1992 curator Jan Hoet asked him to design the pavilions for the international art exhibition Documenta IX in Kassel (1992). The cultural commissions that the company carried out then and later are surprising: the Concertgebouw Brugge (2002), the extension of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam (2003), the chamber music hall in Gaasbeek (2004) and the permanent exhibition pavilion "Het Huis" at the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp (2012). Gradually, the studio became known for its architecture that offers the arts a home.

In 2002 Johannes Robbrecht (1977) joined the Robbrecht team at Daem architecten. In 2012 he became a partner. In 2016, more than 40 people work on a growing portfolio of commissions and large-scale infrastructure projects, often in urban environments with complex programs and instructions, as well as in client structures and partnerships. Large collective housing estates in the city centre or suburbs (Academiestraat in Ghent, 2016) alternate with office and care infrastructure (a newly built hospital in Antwerp, 2016). The company has carried out several projects in the public space: Leopold De Wael Square in Antwerp (2001), Rubens Square in Knokke (2004), Grote Markt in Lier (2013) and the redesign of the city centre of Deinze and the banks of the river Leie (2012). Robbrecht en Daem architecten has recently realised several archive buildings in Belgium and abroad: Sint-Felixpakhuis in Antwerp (2006), the municipal archives of Bordeaux (2015), the state archives of Ghent (2014) and a new underground depot in the Boekentoren complex (2014), also in Ghent.

The team knows how to combine the dynamism and complexity typical of this type of commission with the spirit of the design practice of the founding duo: to work consistently in an architecture that is presented discreetly and modestly. Themes from the early years of the company, such as familiarity and intimacy, the sculptural effect of daylight and the framing of perspectives, take on a new meaning in today's large commissions. Regardless of scale, typology or function, the team designs each project in the same meticulous manner and turns the building into "an unforgettable place". This makes Robbrecht's work at Daem architecten timeless, different and lasting.

The reconversion and restoration projects that the firm has carried out in recent decades are the clearest illustrations of dialoguing architecture. The working method is always the same: 'change a lot so as not to change anything'. In particular, the architects of Robbrecht in Daem have followed this vision in their approach to certain buildings of great modernist masters, such as Victor Horta (Brussels Centre of Fine Arts, 2016), Marcel Breuer (De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam, 2013), Boris Iofan (Udarnik Cinema, Moscow, 2014), Charles Harrison Townsend (Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2009) and Henry van de Velde (Boekentoren, Ghent, 2014; Villa Landing, Astene, 2015). In 2013, Robbrecht en Daem architecten, following his own approach, but with the necessary discretion, produced a full-scale model of a project not executed by Mies van der Rohe: a golf club in the German city of Krefeld.

Robbrecht's work in Daem architecten has been published widely and internationally (A+U, Abitare, Bauwelt, Detail) and is the subject of monographic publications (Works in Architecture, 1998; Pacing Through Architecture, 2009; 2G n°5, 2010; An Architectural Anthology, 2017). In 2010, Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem were named International Fellow of the Royal Academy of British Architecture (RIBA). In 2013, together with Marie-José Van Hee architecten, Robbrecht en Daem architecten received the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture / Mies van der Rohe Prize for the flagship project of the City of Ghent Pavilion (2012).



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