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Lunch with a lady architect for a show of astonishing architecture

The first of the new season of ‘Lunch with an Architect’ has just taken place at Flagey. Forum Press and Communication (Kathleen Iweins and Nathalie Zalcman) invited one of what they described as ‘too few’ female architects Ellen van Loon of Dutch-based international architectural bureau OMA. The organisers also started by saying that for this fourth season, they are delighted to welcome new sponsors Befimmo and Renson, who take their place alongside Besix Red and be.brussels.

The radical yet pragmatic view of OMA’s architectural style can be summed up in various features of some of their projects. Firstly, for example, a library in Qatar which got its shape from the very content it was to house: paper. The building is like a folded sheet of paper, and it is large enough to act as a public space, a shelter from the 50° C heat, in the summer. It also houses a collection of ancient and heritage Qatar books, and OMA elected to sink this section into an area in the middle of the floor to resemble an archaeological excavation.

Moving on to their home country of the Netherlands, a massive project to refurbish an existing building to accommodate three ministries, started with this simple thought: “We made a list of all the things we did not like about the existing building.” This list included the fact that when the original building was designed in the 80’s it included tiny windows on one end, because the thinking of the time was that when people were working, they shouldn’t be looking out of the window! The new affectation has certainly put an end to that.

In Paris, a building was constructed with floors that could be moved up and down like giant lift floors, so that different sized and positioned areas could be created for different uses as required.

One last thought: Ellen van Loon believes strongly that quality should always take precedence over budget. “The buildings we create will be there for 50 years and it is our duty to provide a construction of the highest quality.” She said that while in most countries, during architectural competitions the points were generally attributed in a 50/50 split between the quality of the proposal and the budget, in the Netherlands the split is more like 75/25 in favour of quality. All of this doesn’t mean, of course, that budgets are unlimited – a good deal of creativity is needed to ensure the client’s purse can cope with the cost.
Tim Harrup

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