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Juliaan Lampens
House Velghe-Vanderlinden
Deinze, 2002

Juliaan Lampens’s work is strongly defined by architectural detail that enters the creation process from the very beginning.

It's only a detail

Standing-out / Outstanding

Neither interested in the latest ‘–isms’, nor wanting to belong to the momentaneous spotlights of the happy fancy, Lampens consistently focused on the hard work itself. Through his self imposed ‘standing-out’ off-centre he has long been shunned by architectural critics yet this peripheral attitude enabled him to silently continue on the essence of his work by which he has become ‘outstanding’ in a timeless way as an architect.

This quote touches on two important elements when it comes to architectural detail: firstly, it emphasises the constitutive capacities of architectural detail for the whole architecture it is part of, indicating that detail has to be present from the very beginning of the design process; secondly, it expresses the nature of the creation process itself, with a clear advocacy in favour of drawing (2) as the basic method of the architect.

Writing a piece on architectural detail implies that one has to make choices. How does one define architectural detail, what does it do, what does it serve, and by what is it being served?

I have chosen these two drawings (Fig. 01 and Fig. 02), owing to several reasons.

Firstly, Lampens’s advocacy in favour of the drawing is the reason why I have chosen drawings of an architectural fragment that has remained unbuilt. The drawing is the locus where the architectural detail is developed by the architect, and where the detail can be observed and savoured to its full extent.

Secondly, it is a most dense, intense piece of architecture, fully integrated with and generated by its ‘detail’.

Thirdly, in the drawings at hand here one can trace hesitation and trial. Drawing—especially drawing by hand—is capable of expressing how the architect thinks, how he connects the whole with the detail.

Fourthly, the drawings have not been published before, apart from being part of a great exhibition on the body of work, held at Sint-Lucas School of Architecture in Ghent (November 2006 – January 2007).

Fifthly, these drawings were made by Lampens himself in the latter days of his practice, when he no longer had apprentices in the office. There is no date on the drawings, but within the Lampens Foundation, we estimate that they date back to 2004, shortly after the house was finished in 2002.

The whole—the fragment—the detail

The first drawing describes ‘in detail’ a fragment of the house. The architect has to organise a mereological (3) negotiation between the whole and the detail, and this negotiation passes through the fragment. Hence, the role of the architectural fragment is crucial, and the meaning and information that oscillates between the whole and the detail passes through the fragment.

The fragment investigates a cocoon for one person. Here, the cocoon as a wholeis inevitably constituted by the nature, the materiality and the size of its details, which resonate in each fragment (part) of this drawing. Each fragment (part) of the drawing is connected to the other fragments (parts) of the drawing through the readable nature and consistency of its details.The cocoon is a female body of architecture reminiscent to the female womb. It is designed for the lady of the house who wishes to withdraw in contemplation. It is a regression cell intended to take a human being back to the embryonal state of her life.

The plan (bottom right)

The thicknesses of the massive concrete walls are a promise of silence. But one can only read these thickenesses on the plan and the section. Confronted with the real edifice itself, however, the outer appearance of this cocoon shows one curved and two plain surfaces, suggesting a massive block of substance, only suggesting that there is a hollow and thicknesses through the small oval opening (Fig. 01, top right: elevation, opening in blue). Only the door, hidden in a narrow passage between this architectural fragment and the main body of the house (Fig. 01, bottom: the grey pencil line with the annotation “bestaande muur”, Dutch for “existing wall (4) ”), suggests that there is something more, yet the outer surface of the door is the continuation of the surface of the concrete wall, leaving the thickness of the walls and the depth of this concrete body as veiled secrets. One needs to open the door to find out how thick and deep this secret is.

A closer observation of the full scale detail (Fig. 02) adds information when combining the reading thereof with the drawing of the fragment (Fig. 01): thick steel plates (15mm) (see also the oval ring on the fragment drawing, Fig. 01 bottom left) are incorporated into the formwork of the concrete before pouring, making the steel an unyielding part of the concrete body of the cocoon.

The thickness of the door (see Fig. 02) intensifies the experience of silence and immersion into ‘the womb’. through its massive materialisation in multi-layered plywood – the outer surface is cold stainless steel, the inner surface is soft ,warm plywood -, and its oval form is reminiscent of a submarine door (see Fig. 01: elevation-top right, and further detail-bottom left). In the thickness of the door, another thick ‘door in a door’ appears: a narrow but massive wooden ventilation hatch in the middle of the door is carved precisely in order to fit with the grasping fingers that want to open it. A detail with such intensity needs the full scale drawing (Fig. 02) to investigate its impact on our bodily experience. The thickness of this subtracted piece of wood corresponds with the estimated remoteness from the outer world, hence with all the other details that have to confirm this basic architectural longing. Mereologically. No glass, only a mosquito net that spans the narrow vertical perforation of the door.

The section (top left)

“It’s only a detail”.

The curved wall does not stand exactly perpendicular to the surface of the earth. It is supposed to be erected in a slightly overturned way (with “0,07m” = 7 centimetres) as the vertical section indicates. This is an important detail, emerging from Lampens’s fascination with concrete bunkers erected by the Germans during the war. He had seen how some of these bunkers had slowly overturned due to their weight in swampy sea shores, hence making them sink partly into the surface of the earth. “The integration with the sea and nature is just perfect”, he would explain in a conversation with Angélique Campens (5). This subtle overturning of the cocoon’s curved wall forms a perpendicular angle with the surface of the roof, which mutates into a gracious surface that fluently permits rainwater to flow into a sharp and narrow crack that forms the division line between the outer surfaces of the two flat walls at the opposite side of the curved wall.

“It’s only a detail”.

“Yes, I think it is”.


Interview with Fukuda-Noennig, Y., in Juliaan Lampens, Architecture and Urbanism (A+U) n° 523, Nobuyuki Yoshida publisher/editor, A+U Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan, p. 10.


In Lampens’s case, drawing is definitely drawing by hand.


“Mereology (from the Greek μερος, ‘part’) is the theory of parthood relations: of the relations of part to whole and the relations of part to part within a whole … the term was coined in 1927 by Leśniewski” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved on 14 January 2016).


The house itself was built, and has been inhabited since 2002. The design for the fragment I am investigating here was made more recently.


Campens, A. (2010), Juliaan Lampens, ASA Publishers, Brussels, Belgium.


End note:

The work of Juliaan Lampens has recently been picked up by the international architectural community, through the publication of the book Juliaan Lampens (Campens 2010), and especially through the publication of the monography on Lampens (A+U 523, 2014). The exhibition of the oeuvre in the Flemish Architecture Institute in Antwerp (then: DeSingel) in 1991, initiated by the FAI’s founding director Katrien Vandermarliere, preceded Lampens’s international recognition yet firmly helped to found it (Vandermarliere 1991).

09.Feb.2016 9060 views
Jo van Den Berghe

Jo Van Den Berghe (Leuven, 1961) is an architect with a small, reflective practice in Belgium since 1987. He holds a Ph.D by the RMIT University, Melbourne (2012). He was appointed Professor of experimental architectural design at Leuven University Faculty of Architecture campus Sint-Lucas, where he is promoter of Studio Anatomy. He is a researcher in the field of techné and poiesis at Leuven University Department of Architecture in the research group Radical Materiality. Van Den Berghe is also currently teaching at RMIT University, campus Barcelona as a part-time Professor of Architecture, and Visiting professor at EPF Lausanne and Queen’s University Belfast.

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