Wienerberger Brick Award 2012 | Interview: Bart Lens, Lens°Ass, Hasselt Winner „Single-Family House“
Bart Lens, Lens°Ass, Hasselt, born 1959, Hasselt
Bart Lens obtained his diploma from the Provinciaal Hoger Architectuur Institut in 1982. After carrying out an internship with Jo Spaas at St-Hybrechts Lille he gained professional working for several different architects such as M. Jaspers (Projects: SAS Hotel in Brussels, CERA Headquarters in Leuven. Limeparts in Genk and the Dockside Discoteque in Hasselt). In 1995 he started up his own office in Hasselt. The business has since grown into a young, dynamic team. Bart Lens was recently appointed guest teacher at the St. Lucas Institutes in Gent and Brussels for the Department of Architecture. On 31 October 2007 he opened his second office in Brussels. In 2011 he received his diploma “Energiebewust architect” at the NAV institute.
We are talking about an old farmhouse in a unique site in close proximity to the Gaasbeek Castle. What strategy had to be developed to revive a small group of half-collapsed individual buildings to a unique house with a significant exterior view without destroying its agricultural character?
Bart Lens: In the complexity of the five construction elements I found a strong visual unity in the used brick material. In the past, the farmers produced their own bricks, standing benefit of the ground full of clay. Secondly, a farm house is normally characterized by an inner yard and a main gate to enter the farm. There was a missing link with the environment and with a farm typology. The funnel-shaped shaft, with the nickname ‘The Rabbit Hole’ connects the practice, the residential part and the garden, and restructures and organizes the existing buildings, providing meanwhile an inner yard. From the higher location of the castle of Gaasbeek, the roof of the rabbit hole can easily be spotted. Taking one material to cover the roof, the ceiling and even the floor of the passage and the yard, it becomes a strong visual unity defining the farm in the landscape. Now, architecture and surroundings are splendidly interlaced. The effect is so natural that it seems to have been shaped by nature and history alone.
What was the most complex task of this project? How important were the landscape and the existing garden for the house owner, a veterinarian? Were the surroundings consciously included in the planning process?
Bart Lens: See also answer (1): The veterinarian sold his recently built single family house, to investigate in this new location in the midst of the fields and meadows, because of the link with his field of work, but more as a result of a quick intuitive decision. The family love this new place.
In your point of view, what is the particularly notable quality of this building?
Bart Lens: A simple and so evident material as brick, structures the cluster of different buildings. I never thought that bricks could be so “sexy” in an architectural way. It is not the point to reinvent “water”, but to serve “water” in a way, that it tastes better. It had to be the same with bricks.
The building is also known as “The Rabbit Hole”? Where does it come from?
Bart Lens: The name of the project “The Rabbit Hole” was quite suitably chosen by the authors, thus in a way giving a hint of the natural separation of both zones – private and public – by means of space only. For this purpose they used brick, which makes the incident light look much softer. It is really inspiring when one stands in the public area looking through this newly created passage where one cannot see what is happening on the other side, so that one has to let oneself loose to be led by the light.
What can be said about the use of bricks in the history of Belgian architecture? Do you think this tradition will continue in general?
Bart Lens: Brick is not solely used as a building material, but also as a concept reinforcing the existing structure – brick as the “linking” element between the past and the present.
Why did you choose to use brick for the entire building? What role do bricks play in the project in general (as floor/wall/roof/facade material and a provider of background colour) and was brick the first choice for you and the house owner?
Bart Lens: The floor, walls, top and bottom sides of the roof were completely covered with Hortus Althea paving bricks while brick strips were used for the underside of the tunnel roof. A strong unity of materials was the first choice: we neither wanted to make “a farm-like reconstruction”, nor felt good with the idea of a simple confrontation between ancient and new. We opted for our own approach, the one of an integration of a new element in the historical context, well detailed and properly executed which brings the new experience to a higher level.
How was the collaboration with the house owners? Which ideas or concrete request did you receive from them to help you?
Bart Lens: They were in love with the place, the only thing they asked, was to separate private from working, and to keep the good feeling of the area. After they “recovered” from the first sketch I presented them the material of “The Rabbit Hole”, it was the client himself who strongly defended and wanted the brick shaft.
You have already completed a number of attention-grabbing projects and you are also well known for a wide range of design projects. Can you explain the interplay of all these disciplines?
Bart Lens: I think that the separation between interior, architecture and product design is purely academic: The link between those fields is living, lifestyle and enjoying life, a way of living. Living has no limits, disciplines or categories.
Design has a great impact on the desired ambiance especially when considering the fusion of old with new. How important is ambience for you/which role does it play in your work?
Bart Lens: For me, architecture means more than creating pictures and rooms or finding a technical solution. Architecture is a complex creative process that aims to make an ultimate synthesis of all those elements with the final result that is always more than the sum of its parts.
- Bart Lens
- Christian Dusek
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