André Kempe addresses 'Lunch with an Architect'

Tim Harrup

For the 24th edition of Lunch with an Architect, organisers Forum Press & Communication this week invited André Kempe of Netherlands-based Kempe Thill to present their philosophy. André Kemp started by saying that one of his firm’s principal missions involves bringing new dynamism to the city, often involving collective housing projects. He described what they are trying to achieve as building a prototype for the 21st century. His very first example, however, was a 16th century building in Rome, which is a fine example of simplicity in achieving its aims, and an example, therefore, to be followed.
This simplicity enables generously-sized yet compact buildings to be designed, this compactness equating to both ecologically and economically friendly constructions. He showed an example of a building which, while having a depth of 100 metres, had a facade of only 150 metres. Along with providing far more space than might be apparent at first sight, this also takes into account the fact that the facade is the most expensive part of the building. Compactness also means that there is more transparency and more views available to more people from inside the building, which is not the case if the building is fragmented – chopped into smaller pieces all next to each other.

André Kempe also spoke of flexibility, which can be achieved – among others – by the use of load-bearing facades. And in terms of efficiency, it is desirable to use as few materials as possible, and to ensure that as many of those that are used are not ‘combined’ but can be easily disassembled when required. This simplicity does not mean that elegance and aesthetics are sacrificed, however. The elegance, he said, is contained in the detail, the finishing etc.

To illustrate his bureau’s thinking, André Kemp showed a number of examples, many of them in Belgium. A housing project in Antwerp – Rozemaai – where the starting point for the transformation was ‘Would I want to live there?’ As the starting point was also an existing building with particularly brutalist architecture, the answer was ‘no not as it is’. This is where a recurring element of the architecture of Kempe Thill makes an appearance – the addition of balconies to buildings which did not previously have them. This feature of residential accommodation is extremely beneficial, adding outside space to an apartment and improving well-being. These additions are applied to all housing projects, including social housing, with the techniques for achieving the objective depending on the structural characteristics of the existing building.

Kempe Thill is also currently involved in part of the reconversion of the former Ixelles barracks site, where he described the existing low-rise units – very accurately – as resembling ‘back street Manchester’. Here too, balconies are being added, to make a substantial break with the previous situation. Other projects shown included a residential tower (Hafencity Hamburg) and what were described as ‘urban villas – relatively small apartment blocks with only a few floors. These include the Herkenrode Caserne in Hasselt.

Atelier Kempe Thill currently gathers today a team of around 30 architects of different nationalities, divided between their offices in Rotterdam, Paris and Zurich.