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Architecture without Architecture: The work of Stephane Deel

Part 1 Dissertation 1998
Michael Smith
Robert Gordon University Aberdeen UK
The dissertation investigates the work of the Belgian architect Stephane Beel, who since 1980 has amassed a number of intriguing projects and built works. It attempts to avoid simple regurgitation of the stylistic and superficial documentation his work has tended to attrat, preferring an attempt to undercover the influences and pre-occupations which collectively form his architectural approach. The dissertation is therefore concerened as much with his very early work as those more recent or indeed current, in order that this approach can be understood as a progression and any developments can be made legible.

Analysis of Beel's projects even at the most superficial of levels, demonstates clear differences between the expression of the early projects like Van Pelt or the bank branches in Brugge and Ostende compared to the more recent projects like the Centraal Museam in Utrecht. The formal exuberance and expression reminiscent of modernisim's early decades which has characterised those early projects is clearly differentiated from the Miesian coolness of his more recent, post Villa M work. The study of this change within the context of his array of projects would however suggest this move as progression rather than defection.

The brutal presentation of his projects in the dissertation's 'catalogue', usefully demonstrates the huge diversity of resposes which make up his output to date, a diversity which could itself be as much inspired by Marcel Duchamp as it could be sympathetic to the attitudes of Rem Koolhaas, who described design coherency as 'either cosmetic, or the result of self-censorship'.

These responses seem increasingly to be to be exponents of the pragmatic comments of Mies Van Der Rohe. This derivation of form and organisation from less creative means than those traditionally associated with architecture, fits neatly with Beel's reputed need to plausibly justify his every architectural move, whilst also finding common ground with a number of Europe's other contemporary practices.

'In a sense I distance myself from my earliest work - I don't disown them, they're my brainchildren, but perhaps I should try to say things in a lesser way, even if I don't yet know how'

As early as this 1985 quote, Beel's aspirations were clearly towards the simplification of his architectural approach and expression. His projects since the late eighties have become characterised by an increasing refined expression and simplicity of organisation which seems effortless. This seemingly un-creative approach reflects the non-esoteric agendas of his process and an attitude to the discipline of architecture as the non-sublime which inform the dissertation's title. This condition does, however, create the interesting paradox of an architecture whose form is derived un-artistically and lacks pretense, yet which has been so associated with its formal bravado.

'I am facinated by the evolution, the ongoing dismantling of architecture, until you are ultimately just building things'.

Beel's continuing refinement of his work is ultimately illustrated by the residence Follet-Daels, which is as yet unbuilt. Even its early plans seem to substantiate the progression which has been suggested. The consecutive arrangement of the house's functions produces a plan which owes much to that of Villa M, whilst the entirely glass walls and simple table-like structure make possible the extreme realisation of the Zedelgem house's spatial principles. The long single volume interior is mediated and zoned by both positive and negative volumes, the glass wall allowing increased legibility of the principle, which could also be seen as reminiscent of Mies'Fifty by Fifty house project.

Bibliography

Various authors
Stephane Beel. Vlietuigen in rijstvelden
Forum - Octover 1989

Vermeulen, Paul
House in Rotselaar by Stephane Beel
Archis 3 - March 1995

Smets, Marcel
Hoog-Kortrik: Proposals by four architects and planners for development of the Dutch city:
Stephane Beel, Rem Koolhaas, Bob Van Reeth and Bernardo Secchi
Archis 12 - December 1990

Various authors
Marcel Duchamp. Artist of the century
MIT Press 1987
Michael Smith


The author has to great effect organised and presented the work to
mirror the clarity and expressive simplicity of his subject.
Thorough research including personal contact with both architect and
buildings, has allowed him to make both factual and reasoned comment.
This dissertation is clearly attempting (and succeeding to a large
extent) to contribute original insights into Beel's work.

1998
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