Julien De Smedt is undoubtedly one of the most talented Belgian architects of his generation, but don’t waste your time looking for his creations in Belgium, you won’t find many. Rather, Scandinavian countries, Germany, Southeast Asia, France, to name but a few, have benefited from his talents until now. But this could change. He would like that in any case. And that’s one of the reasons he was visiting Agoria last week in Brussels.

We met him during a gathering of several companies members of the Building & Urban Technology Club, some of which are already working with him (suppliers, engineering offices, etc.). He presented his vision of architecture and urban planning, since both are intrinsically linked, with a question: how can we address the major challenges of the cities of tomorrow? The main challenge being the ever increasing population density in cities. From this discussion, we noted five underlying principles guiding his work:

1/ Go where nobody wants to go

According to the architect, this growing urban population must prompt us to densify built areas but also the ‘undeveloped’ ones: this means we should target spaces where nobody wants to build because they have no apparent potential. He gives the example of the Harbour Bath Project in Oslo: in a country where winter lasts 9 months, this area in the shadow of two large buildings was not attractive to developers. “We attempted to circumvent this problem. The solution? We had to extend the structure over the water in order to escape from that shaded area.” (image below)

The Bath Harbour (Oslo)

2/ Be efficient

Since local governments invest large amounts of money in infrastructure projects, why not increase the potential of such projects by giving them additional goals? This is what JDS Architects has done with “The Mountain” project in Denmark, by combining infrastructure and architecture when designing a car park together with housing. A place that all the city residents  ̶  and not only its occupants  ̶  have made their own, and which is now an integral part of their living environment.

The Moutain (Danemark)

3/ Develop urban generosity

The vision of Julien De Smedt seems to be eminently social: “Our projects are not intended for a privileged few. We always aim for them to fit into their environment and, ultimately, we want everyone to enjoy them. “This is the reasoning that guided the architectural firm when it proposed to totally “explode” what was originally meant to be a block of standard buildings. The objective: all the occupants of the future apartments should get a sea view.

4/ Dare

It is clear that Brussels does not have the architecture and urban projects she deserves. Julien believes that this may be partly due to a lack of audacity and a fear of doing ‘what has never been done before’. “The idea that, by repeating what we know, we are more efficient and more profitable is very (too) widespread. On the contrary, I think that by moving away from accepted ideas and habits  ̶  by reinventing ourselves  ̶  we give ourselves the means to optimize projects. But it’s hard to convince everyone, especially those who hold the purse strings and who wrongly believe that doing things differently is a waste of money…”

In the case of “The Mountain”:half of the apartments in this project, totally off the beaten track, were sold in one day. The most innovative project the developer had ever launched therefore proved to be also the most profitable…

5/ For the sake of sustainability, develop projects that people will love

Of course, we must promote passive and energy efficient buildings; Julien De Smedt is not claiming we shouldn’t. “However, the regulations in force have not always been tried and tested. A passive building where people don’t want to live will never be sustainable because it will eventually be vacated or even destroyed, which represents a considerable waste of money and energy.  Above all, the building must be well designed and people must like it. It will always be possible to improve it at a later stage in terms of energy efficiency with insulation, a new heating/HVAC system, etc.”

Holmenkollen Skijump (Oslo)

Can a Belgian architectural firm imagine and build a ski jump in Norway? By all accounts, it can. This iconic project, both for the city and for JDS Architects, is not just a sports structure. In fact, this is a comprehensive project which is integrated in its environment. Designed as a cantilevered shape with no supporting pillar at the higher end, its environmental impact is minimized, and the platform at the top allows members of the public to enjoy a view of the whole city and the fjords.  

JDS Architects have designed some thirty buildings and 1,000,000 m2 of projects. With connections in 45 countries, JDS Architects has offices in Copenhagen, Shanghai, soon New York and of course Brussels! The firm handles all kinds of projects, from small to large scale and from public to private. In 2017, for the first time,it will work on a 300,000 m2 office complex. For more information on the projects of JDS ArchitectsCV of Julien De Smedt