‘Buildings never stand alone’ at Festival of Architecture


Flanders’ new festival features 10 days of lectures, activities, tours and workshops around architecture and its related disciplines

Focus on Antwerp

Architecture is more than just building things. That’s the simple yet ambitious idea behind the new Festival of Architecture, which kicks off next week.

The new festival expands upon the previous Day of Architecture, during which new and innovative buildings across Flanders opened their doors to the public. To broaden the scope of that one-day event, the festival now encompasses 10 days of lectures, activities, guided tours and workshops around architecture and its related disciplines. That includes urban planning, sustainability, community and cultural heritage.

On the one hand, the festival aims to engage a broad public with architecture and the people and ideas behind it. On the other, it gives professionals, specialists and architecture buffs a chance to dig deeper into the issues facing contemporary designers and builders. 

“Buildings”, as the festival’s website says, “never stand alone” – literally or figuratively. They take form in relation to their environment and become a meeting point between designers, residents and passers-by. They exist in relation to the past, present and future, and they interact with public spaces and existing infrastructure.

Many of the festival’s events investigate this complex relationship between architecture and its surroundings. For example, a lecture series called Raakvlakken (Interfaces) invites an international array of architects and scholars to explore topics such as human migration and its effect on urban planning.

Future of Linkeroever

Each edition of the biennial festival will focus on a different city in Flanders. This year it’s Antwerp, with deSingel serving as the hub. This is where the opening and closing events take place, each with a varied program of activities, workshops and entertainment.

One of the highlights of the festival is a series of events around the future of Linkeroever, the area across the Scheldt river that was added to the city of Antwerp in 1923. It was developed along modernist lines in the 1930s and saw one high-rise apartment tower after another go up in the middle decades of the 20th century.

This year, Antwerp’s city planning office held a competition to solicit ideas for the future of Linkeroever. The 14 winning entries will be exhibited at deSingel (pictured), and a symposium with local and international experts will address the challenges facing the district.

The festival promises to engage the public in an ongoing debate over what it means to build – and to build for – the future of Flanders

Embedded in the programme is a revamped Day of Architecture, on 10 September, when many private buildings will again be open to the public. This coincides with Open Monument Day, and the two events have joined forces to showcase the buildings that combine the best of contemporary architecture with the preservation of heritage sites in Flanders.

Among the featured buildings are a military hospital in Ostend that’s been converted into housing and a Jesuit church in Lier that’s now a concert hall. Similarly, the other buildings selected for the Day of Architecture are located all across Flanders and Brussels.

They include private homes, schools and offices, but also unexpected and unusual structures. In Maasmechelen, for instance, a mirrored box topped with transparent domes houses an ecological research station.

The Festival of Architecture promises to reveal the creativity and inventiveness behind today’s buildings and to engage the public in an ongoing debate over what it means to build – and to build for – the future of Flanders.

8-17 September, across Antwerp