Thursday 18 May 2017

MAD: Brussels New Hub for Fashion and Design

Director of the new fashion and design centre in Brussels, MAD, Alexandra Lambert (at right, in white) with deputy director Dominque Junne on the terrace of the newly renovated building with its soaring, curvilinear staircase. Cover picture of landscape architect & designer Bas Smets and all photographs by Elli Ioannou.
A new hub for Brussels' fashion and design has opened in the heart of the city's Dansaert district. Called MAD, mode and design, the centre is part of revitalising this rapidly changing area. The MAD headquarters will function as a cultural space supporting the design and fashion industry. The recently completed building was launched amid contemporary art and design fairs across the city last month. The opening exhibition features six designers all showing projects made in Brussels, reports Paul James McDonnell & Jeanne-Marie Cilento

V+ architect Jörn Aram Bihain 
TODAY, the strikingly monochrome MAD building cuts through a city block connecting two urban plazas. Designed as a centre for designers and the fashion industry, it will foster and develop new careers and businesses and show creative work. The imposing gallery evokes the centre's aim to become the key meeting place for fashion and design in Brussels. The pre-existing building was redesigned collaboratively by architecture firm V+ and design collective Rotor with most of the original form preserved. Jörn Aram Bihain from V+ says the aim was to improve the existing building, rather than make a grand architectural gesture. More importantly, the building acts as the background to what's going on inside ~ which as it turns out is a lot! Architects V+ (short for ‘Vers plus de bien-être’ ~ ‘towards greater well-being’) and Rotor worked on the conversion of the interior, the façades and the building's fixtures and fittings. White was chosen as the overall scheme in different tones in a variety of materials, textures and patterns. The space was originally conceived as a result of MAD's expanding needs and to allow it to conduct its three main areas of interest: research and development, professional support and cultural programs.

MAD's terrace & Bauhaus staircase
A not for profit organisation, MAD originally began in 2011, and is the result of close cooperation between different Belgian and European institutions such as the European Regional Development Fund, the Brussels Capital Region and the City of Brussels. With funding from the EU, MAD is also part of the debate between national and international bodies discussing design in terms of economy and industry. It aims to encourage sustainability and inclusiveness by investing in jobs and the local community. At the MAD opening, Agnes Lindemans, the head of the European Commission Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, said of the new building: “MAD is emblematic and an ambitious project however it is also a hub of connecting economic activities and development of new projects aimed at national and international levels.” In addition, MAD has been increasing the local and international profile of Brussels designers and working to develop a methodology that is unique to Europe. For example, its Incubator program supports young designers with innovative social and ecological approaches.

The new MAD building has three levels with an interior finished in white along with concrete and the original brick. The ground floor is open to the public for exhibitions, seminars and events. While the upper floors are dedicated to hosting multipurpose work spaces. The top floor has its own restaurant and function space with a glass façade overlooking a large terrace. This is where you can see the signature design feature in the form of a white Bauhaus style spiral staircase that curves out from the back wall. This creates a recognisable architectural element on the urban horizon of the Dansaert district. The original forms of the building have been kept with well-thought out changes. From its main entrance, visible from the glass façade, we are greeted with the first of three interventions by exhibiting designer and landscape architect Bas Smets: a forest of birch trees sitting in their hessian sacks of earth, above ground, the branches rising up to the first floor glass ceiling. The installation brings nature inside. “Building Landscapes” takes over three different spaces and levels of the MAD building, with the remaining five exhibitors showing on the ground floor.

 Landscape architect & designer Bas Smets amid
his small forest of birch trees
Bas Smets says each space was chosen based on its orientation of light and location, creating three different climates and atmospheres. He collaborated with scientists and other artists for all three installations. Smets says the inspiration behind "Building Landscapes" is the city as a metaphor. All of the trees used for the installation were leased, rather than purchased with the aim to make them more economically and sustainably viable. On the mezzanine level is the second intervention, a garden of Mediterranean trees. A pale pink, soft light is created with a film on the glass wall to emulate a warm, summer evening. The floor of the mezzanine is filled with round glass 'windows' ~ showing the level below as well as reflecting what is above. The third section of the project sits majestically and naturally on the far end of the terrace of the MAD building. A white ribbon binds each tree in a criss-cross design that was inspired by the building's curving staircase. Bas Smets has also worked with Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel and the Belgian designer recently created a special memorial for the victims of the Brussels attacks.

Designer Xavier Lust with his
works on show at MAD
In the ‘belly’ of the building, is an open-plan basement hosting Xavier Lust's work entitled “Nature, Symbols & Fluids”. The award-winning Belgian industrial designer and sculptor works mainly in steel and bronze and is best known for an innovative technique using metallic surfaces. The exhibition includes a bronze console with ovoid cut outs scattered beneath it, a bubble mirror sculpture and some of his more iconic works such as a steel picnic table and bench all cut in one continuous piece.

MAD's opening exhibition, "Occupation: Designer - Brussels Vision on Design" aims to change the landscape of the creative industry, working on new ways to think about design. This opening exhibition is created in conjunction with DAMNation, a communication agency with the unlikely manifesto to replace some words with other more politically correct ones ~ such as 'designer' with 'collective', 'hierarchy' with 'network',  'monologue' with 'dialogue', and 'copyright' with 'open source' and 'exclusive' with 'inclusive' and so on. MAD’s opening exhibition in the new building shows work that is all made in Brussels and includes designers: Annelys De Vet, Bas Smets, Benjamin Loyaute, Laurence Soetens, T.Lommee and C. Hogner and Xavier Lust.

“Occupation: Designer - Brussels Vision on Design” will host various workshops by the designers open to the public. The exhibition is  open till August 20th, 2017 MAD 10 Place du Nouveau Marché aux Grains, 1000 Brussels:

Exhibiting designer and landscape architect Bas Smets stands under the forest of birch trees that sit in hessian sacks of earth, above ground, the branches rising up to the first floor glass ceiling. The installation brings nature inside.

The floor of the mezzanine level is filled with round glass 'windows' ~ showing the level below as well as reflecting what is above.

Mirrored wall on the third level of MAD's new headquarters

Designer and sculptor Xavier Lust's exhibition at MAD 

Detail of Xavier Lust's steel picnic table and bench all cut in one continuous piece
Detail of Xavier Lust's bronze table with deep cut outs 
Communication agency DAMNation's manifesto exhibited in conjunction with MAD
Looking up into Bas Smets leafy installation at MAD
The dynamic staircase that curves along one side of the MAD building 

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