Antwerp Central Railway Station




Designed by Louis Delacenserie, inaugurated in the summer of 1905

W G Sebald in the opening passage of Austerlitz recounts a chance encounter and the consequent conversations that took place within the Station. He describes in detail the enormity and magnificence of the surroundings and explains its foundation…

 “The model Leopold had recommended to his architects was the new railway station of Lucerne, where he had been particularly struck by the concept of the dome, so dramatically exceeding the usual modest height of railway buildings, a concept realized by Delacenserie in his own design, which was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, in such stupendous fashion that even today, said Austerlitz, exactly as the architect intended, when we step into the entrance hall we are seized by a sense of being beyond the profane, in a cathedral consecrated to international traffic and trade.”

Over the last twenty years the station has undergone extensive restoration and massive expansion, and so now contains four layers of tracks, the lowest of which accommodate the Thalys high-speed inter-city trains.

the City: the Building: the Room

Sally Stone has just returned from the Winter School at the University of Antwerp. This important annual event invites academics and architects to run projects upon a specific theme, this years was Transformer.

 Antwerp, an important city in northern Belgium, in the north of Europe, has been sought after and fought over for centuries thanks to its sheltered position on the estuary of the River Scheldt, the mild climate and the tolerant people. The legacy is a patchwork of ancient and modern architecture in which baroque rubs up against art deco, the traditional adjacent to the contemporary and the scarified next to the ephemeral

Look, said the voice … “A vacant lot at dusk” … “Long blurry beach” … “Sometimes you’d think he’d never use a camera before” … “Crumbling walls, dirty terrace, gravel path, a sign that says Office” … “A cement box by the side of the road” … “Restaurant windows, out of focus” … I don’t know what the hell he’s trying to get at.”


Roberto Bolaño


the City: the Building: the Room

“One could look from the campiello through openings, balustrades, screens, and discern the garden at the other side … and behold something at once a mystery and reality.”*

Architecture is the mediator between the City and the Room. An act of translation occurs at the point where the outside meets the inside. The window, door or threshold transforms the nature of the exterior and moderates it to accommodate the interior. When viewed from the hostile environment of the outside, the interior can possess qualities that are perhaps ethereal, enchanting or reassuring.

Imagine a crowd gathering in the Grote Markt, the quality of the light in the square, the coldness of the damp and windswept space, look through those twinkling windows of the tall imposing buildings, envisage what would be happening in these spaces, picture the character of the rooms behind the facades, create this interior.

*Carlo Scarpa talking about the Fondazione Querini Stampalia



The City: We examined the particular qualities and characteristics of routes from the Grote Markt to the edge of the central area, and then back again. This analysis led us to create proposals for the transformation of the journey into a narrative; that is a collection of forms and spaces that communicated the essence of this excursion.


The Building: We analysed the particular qualities and character of the Guild-Houses that face the Grote Mark. We looked at the size, scale, materials, construction, occupation and most importantly the quality of the light.


The Room: We translated the ideas that were developed for the abstract space into a real proposal for the interior design of a space or collection of spaces within the Guild-houses.

Looking Through



Staff and students from CiA have just returned from the intensive ADSL week at the university in Antwerp. This annual event is a collection of lectures and workshops by an assortment of international architects and designers assembled together around a common theme. Each unit worked with a group of about 15 internationally mixed students and this year’s theme was: Congruence.

 The outcomes were wide-ranging – from city planning to furniture design – and the media employed included film, animation, photography, model making, and good old pencil drawing.

 Sally Stone organised a workshop entitled “Looking Through”. This used 17th century Flemish paintings of ordinary everyday activities, situated within atmospheric interior settings as its starting point. The students were asked to construct and present their own interior that reflected the narrative of these early paintings, but considered it from the perspective of the 21st century

 The intention of this workshop was to celebrate the long-light of the low sun, balance rather than symmetry, pointed architecture, huge windswept squares and of course, butter, milk and cheese, all of which epitomise the northern climate. These elements are all present in the paintings of, for example, Vermeer, de Hooch, de Witte, Maes and Saenredam. Social harmony and hierarchy, especially the elevated position of women and the democratic manner in which servants were treated, religion and culture, and the business of business, also contribute to the sense of narrative and identity that permeate the paintings. The conclusion was that all the paintings contained long and intense light, warm colours, character and narrative and ofcourse, movement through a number of different interior spaces, often leading to a glimpse of an exterior view.

 The students first built installations within the interior of the university. These were based upon the paintings, but without mimicking them. The installations were then drawn and photographed, these resultant images were then further manipulated, the settings altered to reflect the results and more images were recorded. Drawings were photographed and photographs drawn.

 The results show a modern interpretation of a four hundred year old idea.

The room has been evicted from the house

The 6th Modern Interiors Research Centre Conference was held at Kingston University last week. The focus was upon histories and heritage.


Among the interesting collection of papers was a description of the reconstruction of the Hotel de Ville in Paris. The speaker defined the difference between renovation and reconstruction as the same as that between a painting and it’s copy. This was followed by a detailed discussion of George III’s bed. Other topics included a description of the changes to Glasgow School of Art and the evolution of the Church of St Michael’s in Cropthorne, Wiltshire. Sally Stone, with her co-author, Graeme Brooker presented a paper that discussed the remodelling of contaminated buildings.

Fred Scott, the eminent interiors theorist presented the final keynote address, “The room, its demise and possible resurrection”. This was based upon research that he’d conducted with Robin Evans and it discussed how in the 18C, the interior and the exterior of a building could exist independently. Modernism, and with it the pursuit of transparency, has lead to this difference has becoming unobtainable: “The room has been evicted from the house”.

Artex supplied the pink champagne

From Acoustics to Zoomorphic

…via Fabio Novembre.


CiA staffer Sally Stone has, along with her perennial collaborator Graeme Brooker and newbie Michael Coates, produced The Visual Dictionary of Interior Architecture and Design. It’s a cutely packaged book that is intended to inform and inspire. And, of course, the pictures are more prominent than the words. Except, strangely, on the cover.

More CiA books

Interior Architecture: Context & Environment


CiA staffer Sally Stone and her co-author Graeme Brooker have just had their second book in the Basic Interior Architecture series published.

“Context & Environment” examines the ways in which elements based both inside and outside of the host building can influence and effect the interior space. The book proposes a method of interpretation, evaluation and utilisation of physical factors, such as light and orientation, the contextual issues of the urban form and the subject of sustainability, and their influences on the design of the interior and the remodelling of existing buildings.

Amazon link: Basics Interior Architecture: Context and Environment

Olivetti Showroom

olivetti-3.JPG olivetti-1jpg.JPG

Carlo Scarpa was commissioned to design the Olivetti Showroom in 1956 and the work was completed over the next couple of years. The site was awkward, long and thin, and at about four meters high, hardly able to support a second level. But it was also engaging, a corner position overlooking St Marks Square. Scarpa placed long wooden balconies along the long edges of the space, and these were accessed from a slightly off-centre stretched suspended marble staircase. Together these served to accentuate the length and height of the space, while also allowing the qualities of light and air to be gradually appreciated as the visitor moved from the entrance to the centre of the shop. The tiled floor appeared as if moving water and the display tables that were cantilevered from the windows seemed to float into the space.

Olivetti have long since left the premises and the shop now houses objet d’art. The decorative finishes are beginning to age, the plaster is stained, the bronze is tarnished and in places the marble has decayed, but the distinctive character and exquisite nature of the space is still very evident.


Old Manchester Town Hall 1834-1912


Architecture in the raw

Photographed just before its destruction in 1912 Manchester’s pre-Waterhouse Town Hall was the subject of study by students at the Manchester School of Architecture published in 1915.

Few buildings of this quality have ever been demolished except during a war. Empty of people, furniture, and paintings with flecks of debris on the uncovered floor we see its spaces in their purest form.