“The function, for me, is in the doing” | Sculptural House [1967] By Jacques Gillet

The Sculptural House. Jacques Gillet

The Belgian architect Jacques Gillet designed the sculpture house in Liège [1967-1968] as a synthesis of structure and form, collaborating on this project with the sculptor Félix Roulin and the engineer René Greisch.

In 1978 Jacques Gillet founded the program organic architecture entitled “research on form and architecture” at the School of Architecture. Jacques Gillet was deeply interested in worldwide architecture and started travelling as part of his research. In one of those travels he met Bruce Goff, an American architect that gave a lecture at the Beaux-Arts in 1972 and influenced some of the European architecture of those years.

Maybe it was in those years when Gillet started thinking about the organic nature of architecture. As David Green once wrote: “Why don’t rabbits dig rectangular burrows? Why didn’t early man make rectangular caves?

The Sculptural House. Jacques Gillet

The Sculptural House. Jacques Gillet

We can read in the abstract of the book Sculpture house in Belgium by Jacques Gillet:

This ‘living-sculpture’ was undertaken by the team as a reaction against the general pressure of that time towards standardization of forms in architecture, in which an artistic poverty and deficiency needed to be counterbalanced through collaboration with sculptors and painters. The merit of the artistic collaboration is evident when looking at the scheme of the building yard. The materials and techniques used gave the team a creative liberty: steel bars were folded, and placed one by one, to enhance the contingency between nature, space, material and poetry.

A metal mesh was affixed to the steel bars and the ultimate form was then secured by projecting a fast setting concrete onto it: direct, immediate and efficient. The exterior is just the mere envelope of the interior: no additional structure whatsoever was necessary. The structure was left bare on the outside, postulating a true unity between form and material.

We can see that Gillet had the same enthusiasm for the idea of the sculpted shell, that David Greene also had on those years. This house allowed the project to be an unfettered exploration on the basis of shape, surface and structure.

The Sculptural House. Jacques Gillet

In the book Design and Nature there is a chapter called “Nature and Architectural Design” and we can read about the sculpture house designed by Gillet, Roulin and Greisch:

Inspired by nature and organic forms, the design was undertaken as a synthesis of arts. According to their own words, they didn’t want to start a revolution, but simply wanted to create something new, opposed to the standardisation of forms in architecture and the conditions of mankind’s accommodation of those times, out of touch with nature.

According to the date of construction of the Sculptural House, we can think that Jacques Gillet was influenced by Kiesler’s Endless House and also by Archigram’s projects as the Living Pod or the Spray Plastic House. But we can come further to the current times and found a clear influence of Gillet’s work in another curious house, the Steel House by Robert Bruno, a house that took 25 years to be completed.

This continuity is a reflection around the idea on “what is organic architecture?”. This movement arose at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries mainly with Sullivan, Wright, Gaudi, Horta and Rudolf Steiner. It has been eclipsed in the middle of the twentieth century due to the Second World War and the mass reconstruction during the Post War period.

The most interesting thing behind these projects is how they let us learn about the philosophy behind organic forms and how they have evolved. Let’s see some images with dates to have a deeper overview of this evolution:

The Living Pod. Archigram. 1966

The Sculptural House. Jacques Gillet. 1967

The Steel House. Robert Bruno. 2006

The architectural design of these houses or buildings is fundamentally the result of exchanges of perceptions: those of the individuals concerned and those of the environment. We wanted to show Jacques Gillet’s work here also because there’s not much information available on the internet, and we think it’s an important part of Belgian architectural history.

1984 photo of Friends of Kebyar in Liege, Belgium taken by Jacques Gillet. Left to right Jacques brother, sister-in-law, Lucienne Gillet, Carolyn & Jack Golden, Robert & Toby Bowlby. Source

Jacques Gillet wrote about his work:

I need to create. I need to make new work, original work, made with my own hands in the open air. And that’s why I do it. I make architecture in the way a sculptor makes sculpture or the painter creates paintings. I don’t need a specific function to justify what I do. The function, for me, is in the doing.

Now, just think if are these good examples of organic architecture? Or should we go further and think as Paul Laffoley did: choose your plot, plant a seed and let your house gets older.

Related links and readings

[1] Concrete Structures in Belgian Architecture 1890-2000. Innovations and Experiments. All of the Sculptural House images are taken from the site.
[2] Book Design and Nature. WIT Press, pages 67-77.
[3] Photo-set of the Sculpture House at Escape into this awesome caveman house


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