Vincent Van Duysen on the Architecture of Visual Silence
Over a 30-year practice, the Antwerp-based architect and interior designer Vincent Van Duysen has established himself through impressive testaments of minimalism. His designs foster a close union between his architecture, interiors, and products, to realize a seamless vision—a notably quiet, yet an uplifting one—of serenity. At JACQUES, we recognize many shared alignments embodied in Van Duysen’s practice. We appreciate his use of materials and colors that feel pure, raw, and tactile, as if unearthed from its natural states of stone and clay. Van Duysen’s designs represent a minimalist aesthetic that is discreetly progressive and which connects with the identity of JACQUES.
We had the opportunity to visit the architect and interior designer in his home in Antwerp. As the first Brand Ambassador to JACQUES, Van Duysen discusses his practice, values, and the synergy at play between the architect and JACQUES founder Gregg Cohenca.
There is a common focus of endurance, performance, and relaxed luxury that we can acknowledge in your work as important values.
A: Yes, exactly. That’s true. What we have in common is that we stand for this kind of beauty that represents itself in both of our personal and professional interests. On the other hand, there are a lot of crossovers. For me, while it’s about architecture for the body, but also JACQUES’s approach for its use of materials, details, and fabrics that feel tactorial. These are all perspectives you can also see in my body of work as well, which is also very sensorial. It’s about well-being, comfort, the use of different textures, and hidden technology. It’s about sophistication and understatement, yet very elegant and precise. Everything is well-thought-out and nicely balanced. It’s not in your face in terms of colors and textures – we also share a very desaturated feeling [in our work]. There are a lot of similar elements in the way JACQUES is built up and perceived by the outside world, and I am the same through my architecture, designs, and interiors.
"I am trying to aim for spaces that are calming down all the senses, especially visually. This visual silence is very important to me, as I’m trying to achieve serene environments, spaces, and ambiences that calm down the senses, and where all the excess is striped off."
Our mantra at JACQUES is “quiet confidence.” We believe that one can still be progessive, while being serene and subtle. You’ve connected this to your dedication to the “architecture of visual silence.” Could you explain what that means for you in your practice?
A: We are living in a very fast track, where everything is about immediate responses and effects. And there isn’t time to digest. I am trying to aim for spaces that are calming down all the senses, especially visually. This visual silence is very important to me, as I’m trying to achieve serene environments, spaces, and ambiences that calm down the senses, and where all the excess is striped off. There is not only a sensorial experience of silence in your body but also visually. It’s not only about calming the mind but also what you see. That’s the way I perceive my work in this moment where everything is going super fast, and I’m more interested in slowing down the process and be in total awareness of what we, myself as an architect or Gregg as a designer, are both aiming for. We want to make sure that the quality and beauty of our product is appreciated.
Your home in Antwerp is your sanctuary. It’s a place where you can disconnect from everything. What are the elements that make up a sanctuary for you?
A: It starts with the architecture. The house was built in 1870, and it’s received a complete lift in the last years, which used to be offices of lawyers and notaries. For me, it was about stripping everything to its bones—to the skeleton of the building—and then, rebalancing the spaces by bringing in natural light through secret gardens that give extra oxygen to the rooms. There’s a beautiful interaction between the outside and inside. I was aiming to add an extra layer of materials but through a very limited monochromatic palette, in terms of both materials and colors: mainly natural wood, bone, textured plaster on walls and doors, and a bit of aged Belgian bluestone. The rest is filled with my collection of furniture, books, art, and my three dogs. Once you come in, you can completely disconnect and wind down. The monochromatic palette helps to set that ambience.
"I’ve reverted towards my own body, creating space for my mind and body to find an inner peace and silence."
We can recognize a mindful approach across material, forms, and spatial relationships in your designs. What is mindfulness to you?
A: Mindfulness stands for awareness. It’s the awareness of knowing who you are, and how you think and feel in your mind and body, but for an architect, it’s also how you connect it to a space. With my spaces, I’m creating not only for the people it’s for, but also for their objects, furniture, their beloved animals or family. It’s about the well-being of all of it. I wanted to become more mindful as an architect, as I am creating for others. Since a few months I’ve been practicing transcendental meditation. I’ve reverted towards my own body, creating space for my mind and body to find an inner peace and silence.
You’ve described your work as warm minimalism. How do you achieve this in your practice? How about through light and ambience?
A: My specialty is in the research of materials. Most of my materials are derived from nature. I rarely use artificial materials. I’m working with many varieties of woods and natural stones. My plaster techniques or my wall treatments are mostly derived from chalk. I use all natural paints or paint techniques, and the fabrics used in the carpets are never synthetic. Instead, they are wools, linens or cottons. Of course, we Belgians have a rich heritage in fabrics and carpestry, and even incredible craftsmanship and artisans for wooden flooring and cabinet making. We have very good research and sources for reclaimed materials. In my own home, the attic is realized in all reclaimed wood. My work is intended to feel very pure and sensorial, and everything excess is stripped away. Once I materialize my spaces and interiors with layers of textured materials, what is left is a natural glow of warmth. There are softening desaturated colors giving extra warmth and subtlety into the spaces I am creating.
Your active life is important to you. How do you balance your active life with everything else?
A: I am trying to eat as healthy as I can, mainly organic food. I am also trying to limit alcohol, although I’m a big wine lover. I think I inherited that from Italy during my studies in architecture. Since I was young, I was very involved in sports. I danced both classical ballet and contemporary dance, rode horses, and played hockey. I also practiced aerobics, pilates, and cycling. Lately, I’m more about going to the gym for intermediate cardio combined with weightlifting or fitness training with a personal trainer. I’m trying to aim for 3-4 times a week. For my age and lifestyle, it’s not that easy, but I’m trying to keep it up. Everybody knows that movement is necessary and stands for a good quality of life, namely cardiovascular-wise. I’m going every year to a cardiologist for check-ups. It’s about awareness and mindfulness where it’s important to have a healthy mind and body. It’s part of my weekly routine and rituals, and I consider them as bullet points in my agenda. I will not cancel them. They are part of my daily routine.
What are some examples of architecture that demonstrate visual silence for you?
A: You can say sacred architecture in general. You have some beautiful abbeys in Provence. Roman churches and cloisters are beautiful too. There are some very contemplative architecture from contemporary architects, even from Portugal that I really admire. There are also some examples of Latin American architecture that I find very contemplative. Of course, there is Japanese architecture. I’m a big fan of Japanese architecture and culture because it’s very contemplative and meditative. And it’s not that I am a fanatic where I can point out this building or this architect, as I always believe that there is so much talent and space. Even a moment of silence in nature or in a shelter can be as silent as a church, a chapel or a cloister. It doesn’t have to be a typical architectural building to refer to. It could be simply a shelter somewhere in nature made by locals. The beauty of simplicity is very appealing to me.
"The beauty of simplicity is very appealing to me."
The architect’s latest monograph, titled Vincent Van Duysen Works 2009 - 2018, is an homage to great minimalist design through a comprehensive overview of his projects over the past decade. To view, please click here.