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Searching for the essence

Vincent Holvoet was won over by one person to become an architect: Gilbert Decouvreur, teacher architectural design in the secondary department at the Sint-Lucas institute in Ghent. The way he gave a highly personal interpretation to his lessons, his lyrical and at the same time critical way of teaching architecture proved infectious. “Architecture is not something you have to see, but especially something you have to experience”, is one of his mottoes. This was spot-on the essence of what architecture means.   

Definitely have a look at the video interview with Gilbert Decouvreur on the occasion of his 65th birthday. 

During and after his studies at the Sint-Lucas Institute in Ghent, Vincent Holvoet experiences a growing awareness that there is a need for a better understanding between tradition and modernity. The architectural firms where Holvoet gained experience were not randomly chosen. They were places where, for one thing, he learnt to understand and fathom the values of traditional architecture and architectural styles, for another, he became acquainted with new techniques, building methods and materials. 

In the firm of architect Bernard Declerck he went deeply into traditional architectural styles, traditional building methods, the organically grown architecture. This also explains Vincent’s appreciation for Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Flemish… architectural styles. 

With Philippe Samyn, technique and innovation were the approach, with the aim to deal with materials in an intelligent and frugal way. For architect Philippe Samyn, his studies and his book about morphology of structures  were the start to develop new structures, that became more and more slender and refined and at the same time more and more intelligent. Architect Holvoet shares the same vision and applies the same principle, also and especially when it comes to reusing existing structures, that in addition reduce our ecological footprint. 

These influences are reinforced by a spiritual awareness. People feel the need for modesty and security. The answer to this question can also be given by well thought-out architectural stylistic elements, exuding calm. This seems simple, especially when one examines and experiences high-quality buildings, but to find the right tone requires the necessary skills and a sense of balance.   

Vincent Holvoet likes to refer to the vision of architect Dom Van der Laan in that respect, and consequently also to the vision of Vincent Vanduysen. His architecture does not strive for cheap effects, but for quiet. He creates places to escape from the world of flashing images for a while. Some kind of meditative place: the modesty of those buildings is infectious for those who visit them. This force is also typical for Roman architecture. 


Unity between architecture and environment

A building is always part of a larger environment: a landscape, a dense urban fabric, a residential area… This means that a building has an influence on that environment and on how people live in it. That applies in particular to public buildings, that are accessible to occasional users.  

The challenge? Searching the right proportions and dimensions, in architecture itself and in relation to the environment. In the broad outline, in the smallest detail… This happens just as much by omitting as by adding something. Thàt is the power of sustainable design.  

Vincent Holvoet has not so much the intention to distinguish himself by a specific architectural style, but rather by helping to develop the larger space. Or, in other words: how a building becomes reconciled with the environment. 

How do we experience architecture in our country? The fragmentation of architectural styles, typologies and materials does not make it easy for us. The book ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’ by Hannes Coudenys is obviously an alarm signal, however with a wink, but it is definitely a true and personal concern of the author. A stimulant that gives food for thought, although it does not offer immediate solutions. 

But the good news is: there are solutions! Often, buildings that are worth preserving are involved,  because they have a strong, solid structure. Sometimes, a few simple interventions are sufficient to improve the view spectacularly, and the building does harmonise with the environment. A balance between shape and function, the right proportions and dimensions, cohesion of materials are evident and essential to Vincent Holvoet. This results in a remarkable surplus value for a renovation, by saving a building from demolition and giving it new qualities on the basis of existing trumps. 

Reviving a building, a street or district through renovation strengthens the identity and the well-being of the residents and visitors, in a totally different way than newly built houses. It gives hope and, at the same time, it can have a stimulating effect on new rehabilitation projects. 

Many neighbourhoods and even entire cities could use a facelift. Fortunately, architects are aware of this and, starting from that concern, they can add greatly to it.  


Some designers promote new models of architecture, based on the passive house concept, on the principles of biodegradable materials, cradle to cradle… This is a positive aspect, but it may not make us lose sight of the enormous potential of the existing patrimony. 

Architecture may not be a product of the throwaway society or the prestige society. What is no longer sufficient, does not necessarily need to be eliminated, but, perhaps, should get a new boost. Starting all over from a blank page can sometimes be the only option, but then there should be sound reasons to justify the demolition. Reality forces us to be creative and to search for sustainable economic solutions. Once again: changing lots of things with limited resources. That is the future of architecture. 

Architecture has to focus on future generations. There is no crystal ball to predict the future. What people expect from a building within ten, twenty or thirty years, remains to be seen. But the buildings that are realised now, have to anticipate in the field of sustainability and they can.  The challenge is to search a successful harmony between construction/technical, economic, social and societal and individual values. 

“Beauty” is NOT a worthless aspect in the approach of sustainability. On the contrary: beautiful things are appreciated, cherished, have a longer lifetime. Even more: beautiful things make people happy, even when they are not 100% aware of it. A beautiful building makes that one really feels like coming home, it creates  a sense of well-being. 

Practically: demolition, the last option

How does one, as a potential buyer or as a new owner, know whether a building can be saved or not? It is not easy to assess. Consult an architect before you decide to buy or before you move into concrete action. A noncommittal feasibility study in combination with a rough design is the great asset of Imaginn. One building has a solid structure that is perfectly reusable, in other premises some existing parts maybe have to make room in order to enable a reallocation. Or, maybe the existing subject is just too ruinous, renovation is not practicable… and the demolition hammer seems to be the next step. But that is the very last option… 

Whatever the conclusion may be, a feasibility study establishes its conclusion on the basis of real – but not always visible – characteristics. 

Career, Architect: Who

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