With his new book set to launch today in Mumbai, the Belgian architect and designer talks about his his pared down aesthetic
Google Vincent Van Duysen and the words Belgian and minimalist crop up often. He admits to the former, but summarily dismisses the latter. “I am a modernist at heart,” says the cult architect, who was named Designer of the Year at the 2016 Biennale Interieur in Belgium. “I merely try to avoid clutter and artificiality, and express the solidarity of architecture and its relationship to the familiar and the simple.”
Simply put, he believes in paring back. His style is a refining of the excess — as he admitted in an interview with estliving.com — an engaging with “the fundamental aspects of life” he considers most important: eating, sleeping and conversing. Rather than form, he focusses on the sense of living. “It’s always a balance between spaces that are bathed in light, complemented by spaces that are darker, more subdued, and calming,” he told the Australian interior design magazine.
Van Duysen is in Mumbai this weekend as part of the début AD Design Show, where, besides talking about his work and design philosophy, he will release Vincent Van Duysen: Works 2009–2018 (Thames & Hudson). The book — with photographs by renowned architectural photographer Hélène Binet and a foreword by “good friend” actor Julianne Moore — highlights his projects over the last 10 years, including residences in New York and Paris, the Alexander Wang storefront in London, and forays into product and interior design.
Stark and functional
Sensory experience forms an integral part of the 56-year-old’s design. “My studies during the emergence of Postmodernism and my time with Sottsass Associati in Milan gave me an appreciation for pure forms, but the application of natural materials such as linen, stone and oak is influenced strongly by my Belgian heritage,” says Van Duysen, who has often shared how he stays away from anything where technology dominates and, instead, enjoys the sensual perception of primal materials because you can “see, feel and even smell them”.
His desaturated palette and stark, almost sterile, aesthetic can be seen at his recent project — an Antwerp penthouse, where he took inspiration from the River Scheldt’s grey quayside (visible from its myriad panoramic windows) and the sculptural approach of Belgian Cubist Georges Vantongerloo. “I love to work with layers and contrasts to achieve a sort of warm sensuality. In that sense, I’m not into minimalism; I rather have sober interiors with soul,” he says. With driftwood, metal, earth and concrete, he retained the rawness of construction by finishing the walls and floor with the same material, thus extending the textural appearance. And with the concrete ceiling and rough timbre, he not only referenced the city’s historical warehouses, but also gave the perfect backdrop for the owner’s collection of abstract expressionist art. “The loft is separable through use of full-height sliding doors, which makes the experience that of a single open space, divided by functional blocks,” he explains on his website.
One of the major tastemakers of minimalist design, Van Duysen credits his parents with his all-round creative development. “They educated me across many different arts as a child — architecture, painting, theatre — and my father had incredibly intuitive artistic skills. These were the primary influences for my appreciation and understanding of beauty,” says the architect, who studied at the Institute Saint-Lucas, and later started his Antwerp studio in 1990.
His aesthetics has also helped him work across disciplines, including designing products for European furniture brands. In 2016, the Italian furniture brand Molteni&C appointed him creative director and since then he has overhauled several of their stores. “As I am an architect, my approach to furniture design is from an architectural perspective. I like to reinterpret classic elements from designers and architects I admire but giving these forms a modern identity.” But he does not believe in incorporating his furniture in his projects. “I use mostly classic and vintage pieces mixed with made-to-measure designs,” he concludes.