Z33 is an art institution, not a museum. It does not have its own collection, but initiates and produces its own exhibitions using borrowed artworks. The mentality of this ‘workhouse’, as it describes itself, turned out to be exactly in tune with the attitudes of the architect. When an architect was being selected, Francesca Torzo convinced the client of her credentials by organising a temporary exhibition around her proposal for the building, which, in addition to drawings and other items, also included a porcelain model. In this presentation she deliberately sought out the boundary between art and architecture. The building that resulted raises the same question: is this an architect making a building or an artist working on a sculpture? Both of these approaches can be read into the design and execution of this very particular building.
The architectural project comprised the renovation of the existing 1950s arts centre, plus the addition of a newly built section of approximately the same size. The two parts of the building together adjoin the garden of the beguinage, where the entrance to the arts centre was also once located, it being accessible only through the gateway to the garden. Francesca Torzo moved the entrance to the street side, but once again incorporated a barrier. Through a hole in the wall, closed off with an elegant steel gate, the visitor enters a small forecourt with a tree and a gently splashing fountain. This intimate spot tells us that this art establishment is like a mediaeval town, full of twists and turns, alleyways and vistas, as well as a wide variety of rooms and other spaces. The existing section of the building is mirrored in the details of the new interior: the 1950s architecture provided the inspiration for the banisters, passageways and patterns, but the formal idiom is entirely its own.
Torzo created two artworks related to the project: in addition to the porcelain model that is an expression of the project as a solid mass, she also made a version enveloped in thread that was displayed at the Biennale Architettura in 2018 and demonstrated her fascination with the subject of ‘covering’. This project smoothly combines these two notions, which are as a rule mutually exclusive. The frequent use of concrete reinforces the sense of mass: the internal walls never sound hollow. The columns in the stairwell, the bevelled door jambs and even a complicated skylight were cast in situ. Various textures produced by changes of light enhance the spatial experience. They guide the visitor through the building and, furthermore, introduce curves into the concrete ceilings (also cast in situ). Together with the lozenge-shaped bricks, they transform the heavy outer walls into a refined scaly skin. Torzo’s attention to detail shows that she gained experience under the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, for whom she worked on the Kolumba Museum in Cologne.
While it’s true that Torzo links the arts centre to the city, at the same time she seeks introversion and seclusion. Behind a totally blank wall she has created for Z33 a world of its own from which the economics of building practices are excluded, where the experience of art and craftsmanship come to the fore and the architecture becomes an experience full of contrasts. This makes this project a refreshing and in places uncompromising enrichment of Belgian building culture.
- Eireen Schreurs
This project is published in Flanders Architectural Review N°14. When Attitudes Take Form
Public building, Culture