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This makes bow architects special...

In the absence of the traditional New Year’s reception, I respond to five frequently asked questions online

January 2021 will be different from previous years. It’s a shame that we can’t reconnect with old acquaintances, make future plans and wish each other all the best for the year to come over a glass of bubbly. But we can still reflect on the past year and look forward to 2021, albeit online as we’ve more recently become accustomed to. I’m doing that this year on the basis of five questions that I’m typically asked at the traditional New Year’s reception. And one benefit of an online format is that there’s no need to worry about the food and drink provision. So bring your own refreshments. But please do share your thoughts with me after reading. I look forward to hearing them!

How was 2020?

Corona’s no laughing matter, that much is clear. It’s testing us on many fronts - and the sooner that test ends, the better of course. It’s testing our health care system, it’s testing the mental wellbeing of those who live alone and so on. Fortunately, corona hasn’t had a defining impact on bow architecten. Our projects have continued unabated, we’ve expanded our team and, following an initial trial in March, we were able to switch to remote working without a hitch at the end of October.

What impact is corona having on your sector?

The corona crisis, coupled with the climate emergency, has accelerated trends that were already underway. I wrote about these here (insight). Such as the increase in sustainable forms of mobility and care, shops, schools and leisure facilities in the local area. In more academic terms: high-density urban hubs are now making genuine inroads. Whilst such ideas have been percolating since 1996, they now seem unstoppable: we’re evolving towards traffic-free zones, on a human scale, with seamless connections and multiple services, including education, care, retail and leisure provisions. I’m all for that. The corona crisis has brought the importance of having access to local services that enhance our quality of life very much to the fore.

You say that bow architecten is no ordinary architectural firm. How does it differ from its competitors?

All firms must strive to differentiate themselves. For bow architecten, that difference obviously lies in our repurposing expertise of (large) buildings and sites. Yet we also endeavour to distinguish ourselves through our methodology. At the outset of each project we create BIM twins, 3D digital replicas of the actual building. This extra elbow grease pays off, both in the short and long term, certainly when it comes to repurposing. Our end-to-end approach and scenario-based thinking is what sets us apart most. We assemble the pieces of the puzzle using multiple parameters. This comprehensive process results in a successful and sustainable repurposing solution. Our vision is much broader than the design in isolation. We also ensure optimal social returns (in addition to the financial ones) and that each building is the perfect match to its new users and the surrounding environment.

What does bow architecten aspire to?

In terms of repurposing, we aim to position ourselves as industry leaders in Belgium and neighbouring countries, and to continue consolidating that position. Our view on the role of an architect, that their scope is much broader than the design in isolation, is increasingly gaining ground. Naturally, we’re keen to stay ahead of our competitors and expand our repurposing expertise. Which is why I want to continue focusing on growing our network of like-minded bow partners in the coming years.

What do you expect from 2021?

The densification of urban hubs will be higher on the agenda. A few years from now, heated debates on whether to introduce 30 or 50 km per hour speed limits in built-up areas will be a thing of the past. As a consequence, the repurposing of buildings and sites will also feature high up on the priority list, as will the recycling of materials. Once the challenges of the corona crisis finally start to subside, there’ll be an increased focus on issues related to the climate emergency. How can we reduce CO2 emissions in the construction sector? Amongst other things, by manufacturing less concrete and transporting fewer materials over long distances. This new approach to space, buildings and materials, this departure from tearing down old buildings and constructing new ones in their place, will gain increasing traction. In other words, there’ll be a more circular, less linear approach.

The role of the architect will also undergo further change. Architects will increasingly think outside the box and will use their knowledge as leverage. And they’ll collaborate across numerous disciplines to deliver the best possible solution for all stakeholders.

The programming of a project is extremely important. Once that part of the puzzle has been put together – and makes sense – the rest will follow. Or as the old cliché goes: a building can only derive its true purpose once its user is known. For the architect, this means a lot of hard graft, and only commencing work on the design once the user (or rather various users) has been unequivocally defined. The architect has no time to lose and must set to work on solving that puzzle themselves. That evolution has also begun. Call it the broadening of the architectural profession, or moving away from what I consider to be blinkered designs and even more blinkered drawings.

Are you looking to repurpose old companies of varcant properties?

Let us know and we will let you start dreaming.

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