A transversal reading of the jury days

– Lara Molino

For this first edition of the Brussels Architecture Prize, the scientific committee, made up of cultural, educational and regional actors from Brussels, put together the jury of international members. The aim was to invite external voices to look with fresh eyes at the architectural production of Brussels over the last two years. It is therefore in this context that Sofía von Ellrichshausen, Konstantinos Pantazis, Samia Henni, Deyan Sudjic, Anna Puigjaner and Louis Leger met last June to discuss the 175 applications submitted. They worked enthusiastically to nominate thirty-one projects in four categories, all of which are presented in this issue of A+ 293 Brussels Architecture Prize.

The quality of the submissions was highlighted by the jury members, who were surprised by the great diversity of the entries. They saw this richness as being prompted by the architectural policies in place, which were discussed during the first round-table discussion organized at CIVA on 26 October.

During the jury’s deliberation, different themes, specific to each category, were discussed. Some are listed here so as to give an idea of the jury’s interest in their selection.

‘We have chosen activation against embellishment of the public space’, Deyan Sudjic concluded about the realizations selected in the Public Space category. Indeed, these works provide added value for the inhabitants and users by intensifying the activity offered on their site.

Sofía von Ellrichshausen describes most of them as silent, neutral and mature: ‘It’s actually allowing the users to own the space, to do their things and use it in different ways.’ 

These are accessible public spaces that trigger the desire to access and appropriate them, adds Anna Puigjaner. This is true even for small-scale interventions. Moreover, attention was paid to the materials used and the resources employed. Indeed, there is nothing excessive, exaggerated or pompous about these projects. For Konstantinos Pantazis, they are skilful and economical.

For Samia Henni, the temporary MolenWest Square playground by 1010 architecture urbanism in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek is a winner because it ‘activated the site and embraced various activities in a delightful manner. The reuse of elements of various scales and materials contributed to this success’. 

The Extra Muros category brings together a wide range of buildings built outside the Brussels-Capital Region by Brussels-based offices. The jury underlined the great architectural value and diversity (both geographic and programmatic) of these buildings. The language of these projects is varied and their level of execution elevated. These projects are a great success and show intrinsic coherence, according to the members of the jury. Louis Leger describes the winner of this category – the Melopee Multifunctional School Building in Ghent by XDGA, Xaveer De Geyter Architects – as ‘a vertical school courtyard that raises life up in the air, a simple and rational construction that serves children’. Indeed, this school is a radical innovation in school building typology.

Samia Henni defines the Major Intervention category as follows: ‘Major is not especially about scale. It’s about impact, circular economy, about all kind of influences that these interventions engender!’ Deyan Sudjic insists that ‘[the] architectural quality and presence [of these projects] have been put to work for a purpose’. He illustrates his point by referring to the Construction Village by TETRA architecten, the winning project, which, he says, ‘has celebrated the everyday possibilities of manual work in a site, protecting employment’.

These are modest projects that are integrated into the urban fabric. Anna Puigjaner adds that their impact goes far beyond the treatment of their own site. Rather, they address territorial issues: ‘they engage with not only the property land but unphysical things, like the economic impact, the environmental impact. That’s why they all go beyond their particular lot’.

The buildings in this category, located in the Brussels-Capital Region, contribute to the design of the city through their volume, their programme, their ambitions, and have a lasting impact on the quality and experience of their environment.

The projects of less than 1000 m2 selected in the Small Intervention category clearly respond to an existing situation.

According to Konstantinos Pantazis, it is fascinating to see how, despite being minor operations, these architectures possess a transformative potential and incredible power. He illustrates his point with the StamEuropa project by Acte and 51N4E, a project which ‘completely transforms in another way a cold office building street into something so much more friendly and social’. 

Anna Puigjaner points out that with this kind of situation, ‘you can’t risk making a wrong move because that’s the only move you’re going to make. That’s why small interventions are very demanding. And probably the best definition of what architecture [truly] means’.

It is a kind of negotiation between what is already in place and what can be added in response to the context, in the most efficient way possible. 

In conclusion, the selected small interventions ‘manage with the scarcity of the space’.

In addition to the four different award categories, two honorary prizes are also being attributed this year. On the one hand, the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to Atelier d’Architecture Simone et Lucien Kroll, chosen by the jury for the international influence of its work and which, through its commitment, has brought about significant positive changes in Brussels. And secondly, the Promising Architect award, which goes to BC architects and studies, a talented young office based in the Brussels-Capital Region. Their varied and innovative approaches to the construction sector and the quality of their architecture are thus rewarded.

A series of five debates, which took place this autumn, brought together the authors of the nominated projects so that they could express themselves on a specific theme through their architectural practice, based on the project(s) they had submitted/entered. The chosen themes refer to the discussions held by the members of the jury during their meetings. 

These conversations noted the influence that existing architectural policies can have on the quality of architecture in Brussels. They were an opportunity to define what makes a public space accessible, in the broad sense of the term; to discuss the practice of reuse adapted to the project context; and to integrate the structure on the one hand and craftsmanship on the other as an integral part of the architectural quality of some achievements in Brussels.

In parallel, the thirty-one interventions, represented in models and videos, were grouped together in the exhibition A Capital Makeover. This exhibition allowed a wider public to be involved in the reflection and to vote for their favourite intervention. A Public Award will therefore be given to the project with the most votes on 13 December during the Awards Ceremony.

It was indeed imperative to mobilize the whole community around the Brussels Architecture Prize, a large-scale project. The programme developed parallel to the Ceremony thus reveals the ambition of the Prize’s scope.