Architect Francis Metzger encourages Belgians to rediscover Brussels

24.08.2018 - Agne Steponaityte
Atelier MA2 © Serge Anton

The chief executive of MA2 Francis Metzger calls himself a ‘greedy’ architect. That is because he refuses to specialize in one field and instead approaches a whole range of projects. He works on contemporary buildings and restores old ones. He is the academic supervisor and a Master’s professor at ULB. He’s also a vice-president of the French and German speaking Ordre des Architectes. A jack of all (architectural) trades pretty much.

Together with his team, he works on big projects like the new Astoria hotel, the new Erasmus hospital, Horta central station, and many others. Driven by curiosity and their passion for art, they make buildings that aim to stand out from the rest.

 

Biblio Solvay © Marie-Françoise Plissart

Describe yourself as a building.

I find buildings very static and I don't like to use this feature to describe myself. I'd rather be a tent. A design that represents wandering and movement, one that visits, one that’s interested and curious. They are ‘buildings’ that are charged with happiness. I am the opposite of something like The Great Pyramids. They have been static for so many years it's sad.

 

Who is your architect godfather?

No one in the world of architecture, actually. My mentors are philosophers, artists, dancers, stylists, etc... I feed off parallel arts to build my projects. That is because if I was inspired by architects, by the work that was already built, it would be projects that already got realized several years ago. That means they are not as relevant. It is more interesting to draw inspiration from the present and all the current artists in order to rethink architecture.

If you had to replace the Atomium with something else, what would it be?

The attitude of replacing something with something else is very modernist-like. I’d rather complete it instead of replacing it. Which reminds me of a project I did a few years ago when we decided to add another ‘ball’ to the Atomium. It was meant to be a large convention centre placed right underneath the structure.

The Atomium is an icon, an urban symbol and it's a shame that not much is happening inside of it. When you visit the Atomium once, you never go back. However, creating something just at the bottom of it would bring it back to life. Moreover, the dome does not alter the constitution of the building. The aim is to work with the heritage, to reinsert this monument into a current cultural and economic reality. Because for now, a symbol is just what it is.

Erasme Campus at night © Daniel Deltour

Best architectural city-trip?

To be a little provocative, I would say Brussels. It is rare for people living in Brussels to know their city. Why there's a lot of wonderful things here. This place is more interesting than it looks. It is magnificent to live there: culturally, gastronomically, architecturally... The aim should be for people to rediscover their own city.

What building would you like to blow up?

The problem today is the lack of author work. There are many projects that are being set up but they cannot be called architecture, because architecture is art. These days there are fewer and fewer projects with a strong identity. Things are similar, we don't know where we stand anymore. A real architect, on the other hand, is capable of producing something tasteful, with a soul. When a building is seen, we can tell ourselves that it is a gift that was made to the city. This goes beyond construction. But since I don't want to clear the city, I would use the very average projects to reinvent some concepts.

Villa Empain © Georges Dekinder

What changes/challenges do you expect in your business?

My personal challenge is to finish the book I am currently working on. I tend to do too many things all at once and sometimes it is awful because I miss on the things I really want to achieve. I've been trying to finish writing this book for years. I’ve been in contact with many publishers already. Yet, since it is not a priority, I neglect it a bit.

The book is a more of a theoretical reflection of the experiences I’ve lived. It is directly linked to what I call ‘the tragedy of architects’. That is, the loss of the identity of the buildings after they have been finished. Basically, we build projects that take a long time to set up. And when it's all over, we take pictures. Usually, those are the only ones that keep the idea of the building as it was planned. Because the next day, people take possession of the work (which is how it’s supposed to be, of course) and distort it. Thus, several years later the colours change, rooms might be added, the lighting modified... ‘The architects' tragedy’ basically meant that we create eminently perishable works.

ULB Auditorium © Marie-Françoise Plissart

Which project would you like to be remembered by?

The next one. The one I haven't thought about yet. Because we architects are still in the future. We're so caught up in time, we exist in tomorrow. There is really no time for introspection, we are acting and creating at all times. And what we are really building is ourselves. So, in the end, we get better; we're a little better than before. That is why we are always convinced that the next project will be the best. The hope is there, in the new idea.  

Which Belgian talent should we feature on Belgian Boutique next? Why?

In Belgium, there's a lot of talent! Bernard Hisler, François Schuiten, Philippe Ratton, Michèle Noiret (incredible choreographer), Ingrid von Wantoch Rekowski (talented director). All these creators put fabulous energy into creating stories.

 

ULB Auditorium © Marie-Françoise Plissart

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