Brussels – As the saying goes, elke Belg wordt geboren met de baksteen in de maag – every Belgian is born with a brick in the stomach. The phrase has to do with their hunger for real estate as a safe investment of sorts, but it also reveals something about their shared design psyche: there are few things more Belgian than the humble brick.
That’s why, when asked to conceive a local spatial identity for the new Aesop store in the country’s capital, city native Bernard Dubois turned to the 2-cm yellow briquette – top to bottom, left to right and all over.
There’s something very familiar about the new store: it might seem – specially to Dubois – that the city, the country and the region are built out of bricks. Down in Ixelles, some four kilometres away from the rue de Namur shop, is Henry Van de Velde’s Wolfers House, with its rich 90-degree curves. Mallet Stevens’ celebrated Villa Cavrois is a few minutes outside of Lille, near the Belgian border. And here in the Netherlands is Berlage’s grand Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, a masterpiece that turned yellow brick into yellow gold. ‘For me, it's kind of regional because it feels like the way we live: we don't live with borders and travel all the time,’ he explained.
These ideologies from 20th-century narratives don’t apply anymore to this new world
And yet, there’s something very un-familiar about the store: most of the briquettes seen in the Benelux are used on façades and placed horizontally. Instead, in order to make the scale work and thus achieve a higher degree of plasticity for the curved corners, Dubois decided to place most of the pieces – nearly 10,000 of them – vertically.
But then again, that’s just his way of working. ‘In the 20th century, we saw a series of revolutions that gave birth to forms with big ideologies behind them… but in the 21st century, these forms can be used almost like a catalogue,’ explained the architect. ‘These ideologies from 20th-century narratives don’t apply anymore to this new world – it’s not completely Western-centric anymore, with the rise of China. So it’s interesting for me to play with the codes of modernist and post-modernist architecture to create something that looks coherent but refers to different movements in a way that you can’t say it’s specifically modern or post-modern. I love playing with these ambiguities.’