Vincent Van Duysen hardly needs an introduction —the name carries a legacy of revered design. It’s a name admired and work aspired to by designers globally, seeking to emulate what he does best: curating ‘the art of living well’.
Put plain and simple, Vincent designs contemplative and calm spaces, by revisiting ‘the real intent of living’. He speaks an architectural language of authenticity, simplicity and purity; of undoing the clutter and ‘getting to the core’. The Belgian designer developed his mastery at the Higher Institute of Architecture Sint Lucas, Ghent, before working and collaborating in Milan. Today he leads a team of twenty five and projects that span Europe, the Middle-East and in the USA. Alexander Wang’s London Flagship Store, the Aesop store in Hamburg and the Graanmarkt 13 are just a few of the high profile places with the Vincent Van Duysen style stamp.
While a renowned architect, Vincent is also across product and lighting design. This multidisciplinary approach earned him the prestigious title of ‘Belgian Designer of The Year’ and the ‘Flemish Culture Prize for Design’ in 2016. In the same year, Vincent Van Duysen was appointed Art Director of Italian brand Molenti&Co.
To say we were chuffed to listen to the wisdom of this design monarch is an absolute understatement. The most humbling part? He has paved a path for an extraordinarily diverse body of work by following his own emotion and intuition. It’s this innate designer bible that will continue to leave him in an entire league of his own — and at the pinnacle of design internationally. Yes, we’re still buzzing.
PHOTOGRAPHY Koen Van Damme, Frederik Vercruysse, Juan Rodriguez and Jose Manuel Alorda
When did you first become interested in design?
Vincent Van Duysen: My parents educated me across many different arts as a child – architecture, painting, theatre – and my father had incredibly intuitive artistic skills. These were the primary influences for my appreciation and understanding of beauty and, from a young age, fostered a natural talent for creativity. Also, within my parent’s circle of friends there was a professor from the Higher Institute of Architecture Sint Lucas, Ghent. He explained to me that the enduring quality of architecture was that it covered so many aspects of all of the applied arts I had been exposed to.
Before you began your time as an architect, you were more focused on interiors – ‘the art of living’. How do both disciplines interact and overlap in your work and why is this important?
Vincent Van Duysen: When I started it was around 1985, I was passionate about architecture and design but still had a lot to learn. The first four years I collaborated with decorators because I wanted to specifically know more about the way people live at home.
How do you encourage a ‘calm’ and ‘soothing’ experience in the spaces you design?
Vincent Van Duysen: Undoing the clutter and getting to the core; paring back to the bone and achieving an authenticity, simplicity, and purity. When you refine excess you engage with the fundamental aspects of life I consider most important – eating, sleeping, conversing. In my architecture it’s always a balance between spaces that are bathed in light, complemented by spaces that are darker, more subdued, and calming.
What materials interest you most and why?
Vincent Van Duysen: My most favourite materials are natural and express their individual character. These are natural materials such as stone, wood, concrete, plaster, chalk, linen and natural fibres. They are all sustainable and age beautifully. Also, to me light is as much a construction material as a brick – the interplay is so important when I design because it is the quality of light that sculpts the emotions you feel within a space.
What bothers you most about the current design landscape?
Vincent Van Duysen: We’re living in a fast-paced, on-demand society and have lost the value and appreciation for craftsmanship. We need to be more aware of the quality and beauty of good design. As the landscape of the industry shifts very rapidly, we should revisit the real intent of ‘living’. Today there is a paradox between staying authentic and being innovative. Authenticity is to create a space where you feel at home. A place easy to access aiming to identify with the rich historical environment rather than escape it, reintegrating social and cultural value into the space. Design is getting – on the other hand – smarter, more user-orientated, production-optimised and flexible.
As a product designer and creative director of Molteni&C, can you describe the process of designing for a large company, as opposed to individual clients?
Vincent Van Duysen: There is a mutual understanding and perfect collaboration with Molteni&C. Molteni&C is an important reference in contemporary Italian design with a strong focus on creating pieces that are personal and unique. My aim is for Molteni&C reach a broader audience. However as the brand expands, heritage is very important to Molteni&C. The passion for craftsmanship is still very present in their brand, which transmits the consumer a sense of authenticity. This informs the way I approach the design of a new product for both the commercial market or in my own projects.
Overall, what is your mission as a designer?
Vincent Van Duysen: I enjoy being a ‘storyteller’ and creating an emotional connection with a space. The experience has to have something unexpected. As an architect I want to create contemplative and calm spaces. I try to achieve a sense of wellbeing which is directly related to the inhabitant and their experience within the space. I am very drawn to this and it’s something I like to see reflected in my work.
What have you not achieved yet, that you hope to in the near future?
Vincent Van Duysen: I find a lot of enjoyment in the consideration of each new project as a chance to test fresh or unexpected ideas. I am very happy with the broad portfolio I have realised so far. I also enjoy contributing to the landscape of the country that I live in and at the moment it’s in perfect balance with my projects abroad. The scale is not relevant to work at. In the future, I would like to design a sacred place or a building dedicated to the arts.
Finally, your quick designer insider guide:
Favourite local designers and studios?
Vincent Van Duysen: I am very influenced by modernist architects whose work was a cross-over of fluidity, sensuality, and material substance; Mies Van Der Rohe, Luis Barragán, Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Dom Hans van der Laan, Peter Zumthor – there are too many to mention!
Favourite designer stores?
Vincent Van Duysen: Molteni Flagship Store in New York, Graanmarkt 13 …
Favourite galleries or spaces?
Vincent Van Duysen: Neues Museum of David Chipperfield, Pantheon in Rome, the Temple of Hatsjepsoet in Luxor, Barcelona pavilion of Mies Van Der Rohe, Xavier Hufkens Gallery in Brussels, Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp, Fondazione Prada in Milan.
Where do you go to look at great design?
Vincent Van Duysen: Anywhere, at any moment; on the street, during my travels, conversations, visiting art galleries or museums and in nature.