Making increasingly intangible sector tangible

The competition organised by the SAU-MSI was won by a Belgian-French consortium of the architecture firms Baukunst and Bruther

The call for project designers organised by the Urban Development Corporation in 2017 attracted 51 applications from Belgian and foreign architects and international groupings. A consortium consisting of the firms Baukunst (Brussels) and Bruther (Paris) emerged as the winner of the contract award procedure.

We spoke to the architects Adrien Verschuere (Baukunst), Alexandre Theriot and Stéphanie Bru (Bruther).

Isn’t there something paradoxical about designing a flagship building that will be both the showcase of a media district and the setting for a media ecosystem in its own right, when this sector is increasingly marked by a shift to more intangible ways of both producing and consuming content, associated with technological developments?

AV: Yes, you’re right: this project seeks to interpret, with the architectural means at our disposal, the presence of image and information in the inexorable process of media acceleration and interaction. Engaged as it is in a transition to intangible materials, the media environment has a paradoxical need to affirm and manifest its presence in the city. The project has been designed around this paradox of  making tangible in the urban space the presence of content that is set to disappear.

Our proposal approaches this question through the differing temporal modes of city and architecture:  on the one hand, the relative permanence of the urban form, and on the other, the versatility of our ways of inhabiting it. These considerations will result in a strong contribution that affirms its visibility while constituting an exchange platform that is flexible in nature and suitable for use over time by the widest community possible of users.

Yes, Frame has to allow for the co-existence of several quite different occupants, with their specific needs, as well as for the very rapid technological development of the media, audiovisual and communication sectors.

AV: The project has been designed to be open to needs which cannot currently be foreseen, but which we can already imagine will be multiple and hybrid. Consisting of a succession of modular floors, largely open to the outside and freed from any structural constraint, it allows for a range of possible layouts which can be reorganised as required. This type of design, combined with the positioning of circulation routes and technical services on the periphery, is highly efficient.

AT and SB: The building will be a kind of symbol of a versatile and ever-changing sector, ensuring its own long-term relevance by offering great flexibility. We had to imagine a confluence point where ideas, dreams, investors and visitors can gather; to create a place for multiple purposes and interdisciplinary exchanges; and to conceptualise it as a place of expression, growth and freedom. In an urban environment undergoing rapid revival, Frame will set up a subtle dialogue with its site to become an architectural figure that symbolises a creative district.

How will Frame fit into the area, at the meeting-point between a large urban boulevard, the site of public radio and TV broadcasters RTBF and VRT, the future and a major route into the city?

AV: The project takes advantage of its rather heterogeneous urban environment to present a somewhat different image in the different directions it faces – as seen from Boulevard Reyers, the motorway or Rue Colonel Bourg. To the south, the square in front of the building proclaims one of the main pedestrian accesses to the future, especially from the Diamant metro station. On this side, the development and architectural treatment of the façade will declare the presence of a new district across the city and, more distantly, from one of the main routes into Brussels, the E40 motorway.

Is this collaboration on the design of Frame between your two firms a first?

AT and SB: No, it follows on from major joint projects such as the new life sciences building on the UNIL-EPFL campus in Lausanne, Switzerland, or the construction of a student residence on the Saclay campus in France. With strong common values and obvious complementarity, our Franco-Belgian collaboration is enriched by its international nature. And for us, using a two-country approach to designing and constructing this building automatically reinforces its European character.