Wim Goes: Refugee II is a particular project. The client who commissioned it was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), an aggressive terminal condition affecting the muscular apparatus and hence one’s mobility. So we needed a space that would guarantee accessibility and be adjustable over time to meet the increasing need for assistance as the condition progresses.
DAMN°: How did you manage to make the new structure fit the client’s specific needs?
More important to us was the basic intention to devise a space free of mental as well as physical barriers, to allow the relationship between the client and his friends and family not to be compromised by his condition. This was partly achieved through aspects of the design, but more crucially, through the rituals and connections between the friends and family constructing the project.
DAMN°: Your work has an intimate quality and a human scale; something that all architecture should be about but too often is not.
WG: It isn’t up to me to talk about architecture in general. But I find it vital to connect architecture with people. Or rather, connect people through architecture. We try to make architecture that is open, to free it from the ‘concepts’ that attempt to force the user to understand it in a specific way. Everybody has a different background, point of view, and sensitivity. So I always hope that people can relate our architecture to their own history and confer their own meaning on it. When you really live in the architecture, it becomes yours. We want to create the possibility for that to happen as freely as possible.
DAMN°: How then do you see the relationship between architecture and design?
WG: It has something to do with scale. For some projects, we also design the door handle, because that is the first thing you touch when entering the building. It might look like a small detail, but it is part of the whole. As such, its significance should not be underestimated. As an architect, I find it necessary to consider everything from the door handle to the foundations, and all the corresponding interrelationships. Once there’s a dialogue between the range of scales, you can actually live in the environment.
DAMN°: You’ve worked on various project typologies, from a fashion boutique for Yohji Yamamoto in Antwerp to an art gallery in Berlin, to private homes and a design for a public square. Do you have a favourite type?
WG: There is a tendency to brand or pigeonhole architects, whether it’s through typology, style, or whatever else. And that happens both by the architects themselves and by the industry. It is a way to reach recognisability through readability. It makes functioning in this communicative world much easier. But I find that uninteresting. I’m more keen to understand the client’s wishes and afterwards to respond to the questions raised by the project. As such, we tend to work on projects that vary in scale, typology, budget, and so forth, with very different outcomes. The reason I chose straw and sand for Refuge II – a material I had never worked with before – was because of the people applying it.
When we designed Yohji Yamamoto’s flagship store in Antwerp, we dealt with a Japanese client who had a Japanese vision. I am European and have a Western vision, so I produce architecture that relates to the Western way of making architecture. If I would have attempted to build a Japanese building, it would have looked like decoration. But in a way, I also tried to delve deep enough to reach a universal place that was open to different minds and cultures. That might have been why Yamamoto recognised himself in the project. I find it essential to respond to the client’s brief, and subsequently, the project. Which is the reason every work seems to develop its own life.