CONCRETE ISLAND


The Greek word Mouse, Muse, forms the root of the word “museum”. A museum was a place not only of archive and conservation, but principally of inspiration for intellectuals and artists.

The architecture museum best fits this definition in the fact that it caters mainly to architects themselves, offering references, idols, stances and ideas that feed into architectural practice, as opposed to most other types of museums which cater in great part to the general public.
This piece of work looks at the architectural research residency in order to highlight the artificiality and enclosure of research to self-feeding cycles and observes the disconnection between academia and practice. Throughout history, game-changing ideas have not emerged from the formal canals but on the fringes of architecture itself and its meeting point with arts, social sciences and industry. Can an architectural project reproduce the conditions for the emergence of ideas and love of knowledge despite well-meaning yet rigid institutional support?

A project for a museum of European architecture in the heart of the European Quarter in Brussels, which replaces one of the last remaining blocks of terraced houses in the neighborhood, questions the expectations which lay behind any form of research financed by institutions. It is accompanied by a letter addressed by a resident researcher to a fellow intellectual. The resident describes his daily life in the residency and takes a critical view on his mission as a researcher and the expectations which befall him. He is a cynic and a misanthropist and with architecture's complicity he resists all enticement to productivity. The means of a visual essay allow for architecture and fiction to dialog and for a layered understanding of the project, which questions the spatial, ideological, financial and social frameworks in which architectural ideas are expected to occur.
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Dear Rolf,



Dear Rolf,
The sky is grey, this city is ghastly. I am glad to read that you are well. Forgive my delayed response ;
the piles of paper on my desk and the toilsome art of conversation which we have called friendship for
the past few years could not bring me to write sooner.

This morning I ran into some of my colleagues who are also guests in the house. They praised the
beauty of this heterotopia. ‘’Heterotopia’’ here and ‘’heterotopia’’ there, as if the flattening out of
history were enough for us to forget that the word refers to disciplinary institutions it is high time we
destroyed. « My bedroom is heterotopian »... What next ?! No, this place is an island, a concrete island.
Akin Hans Henny Jonas’s vessel, conceived by a mad shipowner, it is full of passageways,
antechambers, narrow hallways, first and second sitting rooms. This particular ship was financed by
the European institutions, insane in their belief that the containment of – excuse me ! I meant offering
a refuge for - Europe’s penniless intellectual elite might breed great ideas. Allow me to quote Jonas
himself : ‘’Our very number, I say so as does Nietzsche, is our greatest crime. Our number produces
no genii nor leaders of mankind, it allows them to waste away.’’ Having said that, the wine is excellent
and the bedding most pleasant.


Aristotle’s peripatetic school of thought has been working the streets for ages : the gymnasium and
lyceum have long since become places of degradation and complacency, whether nude or conveniently
dressed. On some days up to 150 of us pack into the hall for chamber music in order to feed off one
of those inescapable symposiums you so wish to attend. That is exactly what this place refers to : the
history of brothels, cathouses and British clubs which smell of cigars. Except that in those places,
pleasures of the flesh were honored, rather than the uncertain pleasure of chitchat.
No, this place must have been built upon the site of an indian cemetery. I spend half of my time
measuring the study room I claimed for myself : the most secluded yet close to a lavatory. I access it
by a a narrow concrete lace spiral staircase above the seldom used Dignitary Hall. Just like in Mark Z.
Danielewski’s House of Leaves, told by Johnny Errand, based on the memoirs of a blind old man,
Zampano, who had seen the documentary by Navidson on the aforementioned house, I verify that a
change in dimension of these walls hasn’t transformed the house into an infinite labyrinth... unless of
course it is the other way around. To this day, everything seems fixed. Time has stopped. I feel old.
Nothing changes... except of course the menus of the much celebrated banquets the house rules urge
us to attend. They take place in one of three cenacles : the Great Hall for public diners, the parlour or
the Games Lounge, depending on suitability. They are presided upon by the ever-present hostess, who
awaits her own CIAM, her own new Soljenitsyne, her own summer seminars amongst dull highbrows.
According to her, to share one’s table with the other guests – all of whom are older than myself –
should be an invaluable source of personal and intellectual enrichment. Fortunately, Salah – I don’t
believe I have yet told you of Salah, the supercargo, master of the keys, at the service of ourselves, the
bright elite, whom we can summon with the ring of a bell and who, upon hearing the bell, will scuttle
along the 203m of hallways and lounges. Fortunately, as I was saying, it is alone with Salah in the Hall
of Failed Conquests that I take my meals, amongst embroidered carpets and heavy cushions, on the
floor.

I have been in residence here for close to three months. As you know, my grant allows me to repay
the debts left by my past years as a researcher: liquor, books and many a lost gamble. The first month
was the most difficult. At that time, I still tried to escape into the city, until I understood that I would
find nothing there. I spend my days – except when I concern myself with the infinite measures of this
finite sarcophagus – reading and doodling. Despite my bitterness, I must confess something. This
place conceals the greatest treasure : a comprehensive collection of books on the architecture of the
17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and a significant part of that of the 20th; as well as varied collections
ranging from the art of hunting of the Tarahumaras to the posthumous transcriptions of
Wittgenstein’s conferences. 620 linear meters.



Good Lord! How is it possible that I have forgotten to tell you of him? The black cat named Berlioz,
who seems older that the place itself. I have always preferred to the company of men or women that
of books and, of course, of cats. It is strange, is it not? What is a misanthropist such as myself doing in
a place such as this, dedicated to the cultivation of encounters and exchanges between carefully
selected guests? I really do not know, and this place is too big for me to worry about it. It is always so
simple to branch off to the left or to the right, to find a concealed staircase which takes one up then
down then back up again, to exactly where one wanted to be : in a tomb open only to the particularly
irregular parade of trains. In short, I love this concrete island.

According to Daviler, in his Explication des termes d’Architecture of which I found an original edition
at the library dating back to 1691, a ‘’Museum, in Alexandria, (…) was a hotel in which were
entertained, at the expense of the public, scholars of extraordinary merit.’’ How is it possible not to be
worried and ashamed by the pyramid scheme in which society praises those who seek whilst isolating
them from the world? Fattening them, convincing them with grants, funds and prizes that they are
precious. Cajoling them, reminding them with grants, funds and prizes that they are endowed with the
betterment of human kind.

Sometimes I wonder whether I wouldn’t have preferred it if these roofs had been subjected to the
pillage they were destined to ; if the self-proclaimed builders of Europe had finished their work and
covered this entire neighborhood with hideous, empty office building for the democratically elected ;
if rue Depascale had simply faded into the depths of oblivion rather than becoming a golden calf, a
deceptive symbol of resistance. At least I wouldn’t have been invited here! Damn, it is alone and in the
sunshine that I like to write and do nothing. Only in Gibellina does the concrete shine!
Sincerely,
Your friend