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Forêt DesCartes – Christian Kieckens and the composite culture of architecture in Flanders


Filippo Cattapan

hosted by

Vlaams Architectuurinstituut (VAi)

Filippo Cattapan curated the exhibition and workshop “Forêt DesCartes – Christian Kieckens and the composite culture of architecture in Flanders” at the VAi. The workshop took place at the Universiteit Hasselt – Faculteit Architectuur en Kunst at Campus Diepenbeek and at the Z33 Art Museum between 6 October 2022 and 10 November 2022. The exhibition took place at De Singel between 17 November 2022 and 27 November 2022.

The project Forêt DesCartes was a workshop and a small exhibition resulting from the experimental collaboration between several institutions: the VAi, the University of Hasselt, the Z33, and the European research network TACK Communities of Tacit Knowledge. It is the re-enactment of Christian Kieckens’ teaching and a tribute to his memory on the occasion of the opening of his Kabinet, but it is also an investigation into contemporary disciplinary knowledge.

The Forêt DesCartes is a prototype of Kaartenstander (postcards display stand) designed by Christian Kieckens in 1995 as part of a larger series of objects titled Jardin Divers. The object is extremely simple: an MDF board with maple veneer on which are inserted 16 postcard holders made of bent iron rods and arranged in a regular 6×4 cm grid. More than a peculiar display of postcards, the Forêt DesCartes is the tangible metaphor of a certain disciplinary paradigm, a tool for producing and transmitting architectural knowledge through the collection of images and their recomposition in space.

The operative attitude embodied in this object is in turn reflected in Kieckens’ key disciplinary practices: the architectural trip and its communication within a Belgian and European community of practice, the use of photography as a a mean of documentation but also of visual reflection on architecture, the transmission of knowledge through the medium of the illustrated book and of the exhibition, the teaching of architecture by means of quotes and references, of Words and Things. In the last decades, Kieckens’ shared practices substantially contributed to shape a rich and composite architectural culture in Flanders. Inspired by Kieckens’ Words and Things seminar, a group of 60 master’s students of Hasselt University was asked to collect the visual and textual references adopted during their design process. The final result, now on display along the ramp at deSingel, stages a map of contemporary design references and of its key theoretical themes as a three-dimensional “forest of cards”. This visual landscape allows to trace some migratory routes of architectural imagery and to identify possible lines of continuity and discontinuity within the broader European and international context.

The exhibition Composite Presence curated by Dirk Somers – Bovenbouw Architectuur for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 and then transferred to the Z33 in Hasselt at the beginning of October 2023, not only reflects a complex urban condition of Flanders, but also evokes the enduring presence of the architectural culture initiated and diffused by Kieckens.

By means of the same tools adopted by Kieckens and his students, the following panel visually reflects on the complex interplay between certain disciplinary practices and the corresponding architectural culture of recent decades, in Flanders but also in Europe. This culture seems to share a fundamental structural affinity, both formal and conceptual, with the composite city staged by Dirk Somers at the Belgian pavilion.


Filippo Cattapan

Malgorzata Maria Olchowska, York Bing Oh

Eef Boeckx, Jo Berben, Jo Janssen, Koenraad Van Cleempoel (Hasselt University), Sofie De Caigny (Flanders Architecture Institute), Adinda Van Geystelen (Z33), Christoph Grafe (BUW, TACK), Dirk Somers (Bovenbouw Architectuur) with the master students of Hasselt University (Studio Degrowth, Studio Plaperi Seminar Genius Loci)

Flanders Architecture Institute, Z33, Hasselt University and De Singel with the support of the EU funded research network TACK Communities of Tacit Knowledge

Production lead
Nino Goyvaerts

Technical support
Guy Anthoni