If human endeavour has a role in the poetry of this world, a necessary role, it loses all significance if it feints detachment. It is necessary, because by giving voice to this poem each effort conveys it further, but not sufficiently, because as a more profound force carries a wave to the cresting spray which surpasses it, human endeavour would be nothing at all if the poem did not carry it already.
Either by starting fresh on a blank page, or on one inscribed in the past - maybe uncorrupted, or perhaps altered or erased - most architects specialise in the one or other one of these possible scripts. Seldom in both.
Surprisingly, at the architecture firm MA² in Brussels we share the benefit from of approaches, each offering the possibility of an identical discipline based on the pleasure of query and the exercise of doubt which no tyrannical truth can paralyse. Only the landscapes and the profiles we invest differ. It’s our mission to flesh them out. «From nothing or from existing fragments, we attempt to (re)constitute a coherent whole, (re)invent a homogenous history …»
Francis Metzger, the chief executive of the firm adds: «I am not an eclectic. I am a “gourmet” architect, driven by curiosity! » Epicurean, we might add, in view of the subtlety and rigour which distinguish each MA² achievement.
From virgin pages, free of any previous writing, issued works such as the recent creation of two schools HELB / ULB-ISM on the ULB Erasme hospital faculty campus in Anderlecht, or that of the big sports and recreation complex KINETIX in Schaerbeek (Association 3A).
Previously written and today reiterated or reassigned, other works are considerably more varied, some of them historically classified structures: The neo-classics such as the two municipal toll booths at Porte de Ninove (In. Payen, on 1833); neo-gothic such as the cathedral Notre Dame de Laeken (Conceived by Joseph Poelaert, in 1854 and completed by the baron Von Schmidt, in 1910); eclectic as the Brussels stock market (Léon Suys, 1868) or the Delune house with its crenulated Art Nouveau/Byzantine ramparts (Léon Delune, 1903); neo-renaissance Flemish like the Château Charle-Albert (Charle-Albert, 1869) in association with Art and Built; Art Nouveau such as the Maison Autrique (the first house built by Victor Horta, 1893), Brussels Central Station (the last edifice of Victor Horta completed in 1951 under the direction of the architect Maxime Brunfaut) or the Bibliothèque Solvay (Constant Bosmans et Henri Vandeveld, 1902); the Hôtel Astoria, distinctly Parisian with a Louis XVI exterior and Louis X interior, (Henri van Dievoet, great-nephew of Poelart, 1909); Art Deco such as the Hôtel Empain (Michel Polak, 1930-1934); renovation of the model of a gigantic iron molecule, the “Atomium” conceived in 1958 by the engineer André Waterkeyn ; and the old military auditorium at the Carabineers quarters called “Dailly”, converted today to the Theatre de la Balsamine (2000) …
A multitude of urban fragments to be harmoniously reintegrated into contemporary life, places of worship or learning, a temple of finance, a transport hub, private residences, a theatre, the giant symbol of the atomic age,…. so many instances of architecture, historically classified subjects or intimate spaces, formerly “modern” works, begging for their pertinence to be reanimated.
« From the bone – the fragment – reconstructing the whole organism. Starting from the place and the programme, we renew the coherence of a rapport. Our first preoccupation as such is to enhance the human capacity for well-being, the pacing of pleasure, to occupy a new layout which corresponds to their scale and standards. This is our working philosophy.», specifies Francis Metzger.
Will architecture now be simply a footprint and matrix? Will it lend feeling and life to the organic correspondence between macrocosm (nature) and microcosm (man) and act in keeping with the dynamics of an overall accomplishment?
« Architecture is a rapport between a place and a programme. This rapport is defined by the place: an environment, a Horta building or a «remarkable» one. Here the question is how to create a harmonious dialogue with the partner architect who wrote the beginning of the phrase, enter into his vision and his intuitions, and find the means to reiterate the source material with contemporary elements. To inscribe within: the opposite of a rupture. »
« When the locale is in its natural state – a geographical orientation, a topography – the page is blank, the writing is original, the rapport can be invented. »
« In either case, the work is registered on a time-line: from an existing relationship, we attempt to invent, or reinvent, a contemporary place. »
« If there was a single truth, it would be impossible to paint a hundred canvasses of the same theme.» (Picasso). And a hundred plans for an architectural project? « I like to think that the practice of doubt – urgent, useful and agreeable – is an ethic. The kick-off of a project must be quite iconoclastic if we don’t want to become petrified by reverence. Only doubt can generate a benevolent attitude in relation to an original primary architecture, it encourages the original to exist and at the same time authorises new creation inspired by it – to find the most authentic solutions with the most ample reach. To reinvent, the contemporary architect needs the work which preceded it. From such provisory truths spring others. Contrary to science, where each new truth banishes the previous one, art combines and conglomerates without diminishing its diverse truths. I would like the city to be rethought this way - why not recycle it entirely? Regenerate it from within in response to new needs and claims? It would be infinitely more demanding and respectful than devastating or “museumising” it! »
« The architecture I practice is far from being a simple sculpture of forms or a pure game of proportions. Aesthetics cannot be our only dynamic because that would be an abstraction referring only to itself. Architecture demands an ethic articulated on a human scale and in the reality of a sensitive world. It issues from a whole. Freely drawing the first lines in a field of infinite possibility, the second feature is already dependant on the first which in turn conjures the third. It is a declension of the greatest to the smallest. The architectural plan is a « matriochka». Like a Russian doll, its form is concentric. From the skeleton to the tiniest detail, each element tells the same story - whatever the material, the expression of volume and scale, or the service for which it is intended. », says Francis Metzger.
Translated from the French by Bess Stonehouse