The work of De Vylder Vinck Tallieu has been occupying my attention now for some time. Initially drawn to their simple drawings and sober architectural resolutions, I have found that the work operates along a series of recurrent themes that are approached with utmost seriousness. Or so I think. It may be that they are having fun and simply following what interests them. This ambiguity is one of the fascinating things about their work. One of the recurrent themes is an interest in the roof as a space defining element (House Alexis at GB; Ordos 100; OVO II; Retirement House at H; House H at SML). There are various sub-strands within this particular investigation. One is an interest in the vernacular pitched roof along with the Flemish tradition of roof tiles. Drawings often refer to the pitched roof as a starting point for transformations that lead to non-traditional solutions. But most significantly, it is the way they use the underside of the roof to scale and articulate spaces on the interior that makes their work fascinating.
Another recurrent theme is the play of transparent walls (House BS at S; House DVH at G; House Jef at GB). The glass facade or glass wall is too often used as a default solution or one that simply bypasses the problem of exterior language, relationship to context or exterior material exploration. In DVVT the glass wall only appears when necessary – either when connecting to significant exterior spaces or in order to spatially open up a tight interior. An exception to this is in Ballet C de la B where a glass skin floats in front of brick walls, a stair and openings into the interior. It’s a trope that’s been used elsewhere but here the dialog between the normally abstract glass wall and the presence of ‘traditional’ brickwork fuses modern and traditional expression.
These two types, the roof and transparent wall, point to another recurrent theme – the interplay of new and old (the roof referring to tradition and the glass wall to contemporary). This is played out in projects, small and large, where new interventions are surgically inserted into existing buildings that take advantage of the contrast between old and new. Even in project where houses are gutted the resulting projects rarely erase the old in its entirety. The idea of adding layers to the existing built fabric as a way of contributing to the build up of memory or history is replaced by a strategy of juxtaposition and counterpoint. Their approach sidesteps the fashion for narratives in favour of stark contrasts that communicate the idea of the new, of the present, in a way that is non-linear, non-story like, and more direct and emphatic – more a kind of simultaneity of space, time and history. The projects are not stage sets; instead they question this common and oft-used notion of architecture and urban space.
The drawings of DVVT also operate in a direct and non-theatrical manner. Matter of fact, old-school, and sometimes deliberately naive, their drawings are fantastically ‘full’. They are never images but statements. The practices website also avoids the more commonly used tropes – there is no flash (in the technological and fashion sense). Projects are described in sequences, but avoid faked coherence and forced narratives. For me, the most significant aspect of their drawings is that they return meaningfulness to drawing. Drawings are never no more than what they are – they don’t create worlds, attempt to be complete or all-encompassing. They are also not about process in the way that many practices (at least those that publish in the extreme) wear process on their (drawing) sleeves. Drawings and process have become, too often, about process itself rather than about something ‘thought about’.
An interesting parallel and contrast suggests itself here with respect to process, self-referentiality and certain kinds of rationalism. A set drawings brought to mind the work of Peter Eisenman. The elevations of DVVT’s project, IVO:
The play of subtle grid shifts and structural misalignments are reminiscent of some of Eisenman’s earlier work. This recollection, however, highlights the uniqueness of DVVT in that the play is neither a game nor self-referential (though it may be playful). To understand we need to look at the way DVVT rationalise design decisions. For example, in their use of brick and block a relationship is found between the use of differently sized modules and the generation of a visual and finished wall surface. In the Veterinary Clinic Malpertus DVVT economise on both finishes and cut blocks by combining differently sized blocks that result in a constructed wallpaper effect.
“Building in bricks – but maybe different to what we are used to; but just laying bricks…so that it will maybe be like wallpaper. As if it was ornamental.”
The ‘as if’ is decisive. There is always an ambiguity, no, that suggests that things are fuzzy; instead there are always indirect and multiple reasons for the choices DVVT make. This is despite the appearance of a dry and pragmatic approach to problem solving. This is where a distinction can be seen between the grid games of Eisenman and DVVT. Although Eisenman was never a believer in functionalism or pragmatism his grid games were based on a strict and legible set of rules. And through these rules and the game Eisenman hoped to attain something beyond language, something that challenged the presumed notions of what architecture was supposed to be. After Eisenman’s Chomskian phase the deconstructivist work sought to destabilise architectural meaning and purpose. Again, a curious parallel with DVVT emerges. See for example:
In some of their details DVVT destabilise solid mass or expected limits of space. But these are not philosophical games or illustrations of theory – the latter of which Eisenman’s work too often succumbs to.
There is therefore rationalism in Eisenman’s work which is not about rationalism (and which seeks to transcend it) but also in DVVT’s work. But here the similarities end. DVVT’s ideas and games (I prefer ‘play’) is always based on how things are made, rooted back to place, and always with reference to space rather than image.
The reason for bringing up Eisenman is that, whatever one may think of Eisenman, his work has always been a paradigm of seriousness with respect to the foundations of architecture and architectural thought. I believe DVVT to be no less serious despite a deliberate absence of theory or layering of words, ideas, content or philosophy on their work. This is significant because the highly challenging aspects of their work and its inventiveness come not from extra-architectural concerns but from its most basic premises (e.g. construction).
I’ve suggested elsewhere that DVVT are the most avant-garde practice today and I suggest that because they innovate by understanding that innovation does not mean that process or drawings have to be innovative. It is what results that matters and perhaps the most important aspect of their work is that this result is architecture, that is, built things – not drawings, not models, not books, not philosophy. At a time when I have nearly given up hope that architecture as such could exist, DVVT have made it evidently clear that it has legs in it yet. If only anyone were listening.
De Vylder Vinck Tallieu can be found here. It’s an unassuming site, frustrating at first but ultimately refreshing in its straightforwardness. Projects are listed by (cryptic) name tags and you have to click an image to get to the next – no jumping to the end. Impatience is not rewarded.