After the widely appreciated Flemish presentation on ‘craftsmanship’ in the Belgian pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice, the craftsman is now also making his appearance at deSingel. In Ensembles. Architecture and Craft, the Flanders Architecture Institute (VAi) and the Antwerp Provincial Architectural Archives (APA) offer a view of what craft and craftsmanship have meant to architects both past and present. 

‘Craftsmanship’, ‘ craft’ and ‘manual production’ have become buzzwords in the creative sector and far beyond. Handwork, repair shops, all manner of DIY books: they are all the rage again. At the same time, learning a craft is more than ever seen as a credible response to the problem of unskilled youngsters in towns and cities. Ensembles looks at how architects find these craftsmen to be partners in creating good architecture.

Prefab concrete is also the result of craftsmanship
The intense collaboration between architect and craftsman, but also the use of traditional techniques with local material and passing on knowledge, leads to new insights and innovative building methods. It is not only the obvious building materials such as wood and brick that turn up in projects where the interaction between designer and maker is crucial, but also metal and concrete. How do architecture students cooperate with prospective joiners to make a window frame? What does prefab concrete have to do with craftsmanship and skill?

Big objects in the exhibition space, such as a brick chimney or a steel node function as ‘an ode to craftsmanship’. They show how architecture students work together with carpenters, what prefab concrete has to do with craftsmanship or why the quest for the perfect weld for the steel structure of a public building is so important. Bart Tritsmans, together with Christoph Grafe curator of Ensembles, explains: “The production of prefab concrete is a perfect example of how craftsmanship is not always visible in contemporary architecture, but is still a fundamental aspect of the building process. There’s actually a lot of craftsmanship involved in making a prefab product. First one has to make 3D-drawings that lead to beautiful, complex drawings on wood. After that a template is made, in order to make the concrete element, what is then a perfectly modeled wooden sculpture.” 

Craftsmanship as the key to social cohesion
Next to the material aspect of craftsmanship, Ensembles also focuses on the social impact of the collaboration between craftsmanship and architect. “By reintroducing craftsmanship in an urban environment the local knowledge about architecture and the building process is reinforced” explains curator Christoph Grafe. A great opportunity for the urban economy lies ahead. “The increasing number of unemployed youngsters in our cities can find a new goal in life by picking up a craft and learning to appreciate true craftsmanship. Nowadays there’s a lack of craftsmen in the city. They could fill in that gap.”   

Projects of different Flemish and international architectural offices show the importance of craftsmanship for the future being of architecture. Offices such as BC Architects and Studies, Gafpa, MUF, 6A and Patrick Bouchain explain what ‘building together’ can accomplish in a community.

Craftsmanship of all times
Breathtaking photos of the steel construction for the ‘Boerentoren’ skyscraper in Antwerp can be seen alongside academic drawings by architecture students showing wooden constructions, roof structures, carpentry and joinery, brick bonds and wrought iron, a drawing of the façade of the ‘Liberaal Volkshuis’ in Antwerp on which a group of architects and applied artists worked together intensively, a skillfully designed wrought iron capital from Horta’s lamented ‘Volkshuis’ in Brussels, pictures of neighbourhood cooperation on ‘the square’ in the beguinage at Mechelen in 1975, etc. “Ensembles proves that craftsmanship and traditional expertise in a new co-working context can lead to innovation in architecture today” says Tritsmans. As an example the curator points out two life-sized objects in the exhibition: “An iron capital from the ‘Brussels Volkshuis’ from 1896-1899 and an impressive steel node from the ‘Waalse Krook’ in Ghent, a project by architects Coussée and Goris. Together these two objects show how craftsmanship will always be connected to architecture.”

from September 30, 2016 to January 15, 2017
open from Wednesday to Sunday from 14.00 to 18.00 hours and at evening performances, closed Mondays, Tuesdays and holidays
admission: 5 euros
tickets for sale at the exhibition entrance 

vernissage on Thursday 29 Sep 2016 at 8Pm in the Blue Hall
With contributions by:

  • Ralf Coussée en Klaas Goris (Coussée en Goris)
  • Dirk Somers (Bovenbouw)
  • Pepijn Kennis (Toestand VZW)

production  Flanders Architecture Institute, deSingel International Arts Campus and Architecture Archive Province of Antwerp
curators Christoph Grafe and Bart Tritsmans
scenography Asli Cicek
with the support of Flemisch Govenrment


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