contribution to 'Open Oproep. 20 jaar architectuur in publieke opdracht'
in collaboration with Louis Seynaeve & Toon Verdonck

In many Open Call projects, architects have given a new face to an authority or a public institution: to municipal councils, to schools from the various educational networks, or to museums and cultural centres, for example. A recurrent issue is how a building today can convey its public character and its specific function. Which architecture is appropriate for which type of institution? Should an administrative centre radiate transparency and efficiency, or informality, perhaps even domesticity? A crematorium must be dignified, but how much symbolism and what type of symbolism do we want here? And how can architecture give shape to these values?

Six series of photographs compare the architecture of different types of institutions. A number of Open Call projects, however, challenge such institutional typology: ‘hybrid buildings’ that accommodate several facilities, for example, or buildings that are repurposed for a different institutional use. This offers opportunities in terms of sustainability and heritage, but also poses new challenges for designers. How, for example, can a meaningful expression be given to the combination of a cultural and an administrative centre in one building, or to a municipal library housed in a former monastery?

In the Wunderkammer, the ‘building faces’ of 17 of these projects are examined by means of one or more models for each project. Six different types of models each isolate a different aspect of the appearance of the buildings. Thresholds and plinths elevate the building, canopies signal where the public entrance is or gather people. At times a building stands out because of its unforgettable silhouette. Façades turn out to be more open or closed, and feature grand or playful patterns. It also happens that the most elaborate or meaningful view only appears inside, in the public interior of a counter hall or a foyer. The palette of materials largely determines a building’s character. Ornaments can emphatically appear as an addition, or be included in the form of architectural detailing, façade inscriptions name a building, while art interventions can play on the image, meaning and use of public buildings.