poetry. To the extent that there is a development, it is one of ever greater control of the means, of an increasing intensification of the work. There is less and less need to accentuate anything. The means employed become ever more direct, leaving behind any reference to ‘style’, universal and free.
Going back chronologically, the new building at Kortrijk for the Catholic University of Leuven (1993) provides an enlightening comparison with the transformation in Eeklo. This too was a project in an existing situation. Stéphane Beel was given the commission, as in Eeklo, as the result of a competition. Only two parts of the original master plan had been realised, at opposite ends of the site. Here again Beel began with a proposed urban design in which his architecture would be situated. He suggested that the existing buildings should be linked by a long gallery on two levels. New buildings could be plugged into this axis in phases. The main advantage of this intervention, however, was that, while preserving the landscape, it would give the university a clear identity and a presence.
The building for the economics department was the first addition designed by Beel; it also contains the new main entrance. As in Eeklo, the centre consists of an agora, which is partly covered and partly open. It is from there that one experiences the whole building. Sharp colour fields with spaces cut out for the windows govern the spatial arrangement. The architecture is relieved of its heaviness. Severity becomes light and playful. The pleasure lies not in the additions, but in the masterly freedom with which necessity is treated. This apparently lucid and simple building is full of subtle allusions. It remains a vital and surprising landscape that can be rediscovered time and again.
The provincial offices of bacob bank beside the ring road in Bruges, completed in 1992, just before the Kortrijk project started, seem at first sight to lack the urban anchoring of the previous designs. But this impression is mistaken. For here too the whole building is a specific response to its context or, rather, turns its incoherent surroundings into a true context. These surroundings consisted of an extraordinary hotchpotch of derelict allotments, with a street coming to a dead end at the ring road, and a remnant of countryside with a wood. The building absorbs these very diverse components and makes of them a splendid entity. The architect's creed sounds convincing: there are no impossible situations; everything has a potential for life. With this project one is inclined to say: the more thankless the task, the greater the challenge and the more intense the solution. The motorway accompanies the building, presenting a taut volume on legs beneath which a fairly complex plan has been worked out and above which, like a ship's wheelhouse, the technical services form a gentle curve. The other long elevation, facing the allotments, presents a very different picture of staggered volumes, vertical accents and more homely materials. But here again, as in other cases, the miracle lies in the extraordinary unity in which these autonomous elements interact in an almost self-evident way. In contrast to the closed exterior, the interior is light and open.
These basic qualities can also be found in Stéphane Beel's other public buildings, such as the much talked-about offices of Spaarkrediet in Bruges of 1988. We recognise them too in several projects planned for 1997: the Raveelmuseum in Machelen / Zulte, the Tack tower in Kortrijk, the Central Museum in Utrecht. Again, these are cases where existing constructions are