Full essay at: Marie-José Van Hee Architecten: More Home, More Garden, edited by Hilde Peleman, and Katrien Vandermarliere
[Ghent: Copyright Slow Publishing, 2019], 217-229
“The side of the smooth green hill, torn by floods, may at first very properly be called deformed; and on the same principle, though not with the same impression, as a gash on a living animal. When a rawness of such a gash in the ground is softened, and in part concealed and ornamented by the effects of time, and the progress of vegetation, deformity by this usual process, is converted into picturesqueness; and this is the case with quarries, gravel pits, etc., which at first are deformities, and which in their most picturesque state, are often considered as such by a levelling improver.”
Sir Uvedale Price. Essays on the Picturesque, Vol. 1 [London: J.G. Barnard, 1810], 195
A first look at the material library at the office of Marie-José Van Hee as it stands today reveals a quest for material authenticity. The meeting table in the centre is guarded by a collection of samples which is very telling of the conditions with which the architect associates physicality. The library is even more revealing for what it lacks than for what it possesses. In an era of industrially-processed ‘perfect’ products, it displays an array of handcrafted and seemingly imperfect materials. The absence of plastics and metals, the limited presence of glass and the preference for solid bricks with no signs of vitrification nor any other kind of superficial modification seem to articulate an argument against the effects of industrialisation. The choice of Delft tiles, which always result in subtle, sequin-like surfaces that exhibit a lack of homogeneity in their colour, superficiality and edges, indicates a preference for soft variation and textured reality. Even in the shelves reserved for wood, despite containing some laminated blocks, it is raw solidity that dominates, not to mention the grey pieces of stone. If we turn around, the picture is no different, yet in this case it is the elevation, the face of materials, that takes prominence over other aspects. The terrazzo and the fabrics seem to possess a special intensity of colour, and in the way they display their grain, the wooden panels acquire a transparent and multi-faceted condition, dexterously achieved through successive layers of primer and a richly pigmented paint. Ultimately, this material library represents the conviction that it is the tactile, material and physical condition of architecture that determines its experience.
Opening movements: from symbolic volumes to humanised interior spaces
The main façade of Marie-José Van Hee’s first fully independent work, the Derks Lowie House, developed from 1983 to 1986, bears a resemblance to those of her postmodern contemporaries in the iconicity of its pitched-roof, and the symmetrical array of windows and the gable at the front, but the architect’s real intentions are unveiled inside, through the embodiment of an interior domain freed from any linguistic connotations, driven exclusively by the experience of space. The contrast between the exterior image of the house, still embedded in the symbolism of its time, whose character can be easily reflected through photography, and the sophistication of an interior space whose humanism can only be experienced through a direct visit, really set the tone for the rest of Van Hee’s career. […]
PROJECTS /// HEAD – Genève. Train Zug Treno Tren. Inaugural Exhibition at Mudac [Lausanne: Mudac, 2022] /// Javier F. Contreras, Ignacio Hornillos. Villa Cuadrada [Madrid, 2022] /// HEAD – Genève & India Mahdavi. Herbarium of Interiors: A Milk Bar [Milan: Alcova, 2021] /// HEAD – Genève & HEPIA. Archipelago: Architectures for the Multiverse [Geneva, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras, Youri Kravtchenko, fala atelier. Nosy Hoods [Geneva: Dimanche Showroom, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras, Ignacio Hornillos. Prismarium [Logroño: Concentrico Architecture and Design Festival, 2020] /// HEAD – Genève & USM Foundation. Space Duality [Red Dot Winner 2020, Frame Awards 2020] /// Javier F. Contreras, Youri Kravtchenko, Ignacio Hornillos. Large Kiosk [Geneva, 2019] /// Javier F. Contreras, Youri Kravtchenko. Scènes de Nuit. Nocturnal Exhibition at f’ar Lausanne [Lausanne: forum d’architectures, 2019] /// BOOKS ////// Javier F. Contreras, Roberto Zancan, eds. Intimacy Exposed: Toilet, Bathroom, Restroom [Geneva: HEAD – Publishing / Leipzig: Spector Books, 2023] Javier F. Contreras. Manifiesto de Interiores [Barcelona: Puente Editores, 2022] /// Javier F. Contreras, Youri Kravtchenko, and Manon Portera, eds. Scènes de Nuit. Night & Architecture [Geneva: HEAD – Publishing / Madrid: Ediciones Asimétricas, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras. Manifesto of Interiors: Thinking in the Expanded Media [Geneva: HEAD – Publishing, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras. The Miralles Projection: Thinking and Representation in the Architecture of Enric Miralles [New York: Applied Research + Design Publishing, 2020] /// Javier F. Contreras, Youri Kravtchenko, Arjen Oosterman, and Lilet Breddels, eds. Herbarium of Interiors. HEAD – Genève & India Mahdavi [Amsterdam: Archis-Volume, 2020] /// Javier F. Contreras. Fragmentos de Planta y Espacio. Sistema Diédrico en Enric Miralles [Madrid: Ediciones Asimétricas, 2018] /// ESSAYS /// Javier F. Contreras. “El Croquis Night: Excursus into Nocturnal Obliteration in Architectural Media” Interiority. Vol 4 No. 2 (2021): 181-190. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Tactile and Reflective Conditions in the Architecture of Marie-José Van Hee” In Marie-José Van Hee Architecten: More Home, More Garden, edited by Hilde Peleman, and Katrien Vandermarliere [Ghent: Copyright Slow Publishing, 2019], 217-229. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Différences de Perception: Le Chablais Lémanique” In Prises de vue. Un paradigme pour l’observation du paysage, edited by Michael Jakob [Geneva: Métis Presses, 2019], 129-146. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Tactile and Reflective Conditions: Marie-José Van Hee’s House Declercq” BITACORA Arquitectura no. 39 (2018): 134-139. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Dibujo y Repetición: Presencia Manual de Enric Miralles en la Planta del Ayuntamiento de Utrecht” RA Revista de Arquitectura no. 19 (2017): 97-104. /// Javier F. Contreras, and José María Sánchez García. “Concentration as Program, Emptiness as Flexibility: an Idea of Space” In Passion for the Built Environment (Perspectives in Metropolitan Research no. 2), edited by Gesa Ziemer [Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2016], 98-106. /// Javier F. Contreras. “La Tectónica de lo Aéreo: Enric Miralles y la Vicisitud de lo Climático” ZARCH: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Architecture and Urbanism no. 4 (2015): 22-35. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Plan Libre vs. Plan Miralles” In Massilia 2011. Annuaire d’études Corbuséennes, edited by Josep Quetglas [Paris-Marseille: Fondation Le Corbusier, Editions Imbernon, 2011], 82-91. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Océanos de Arena, Ciudades del Petróleo” Revista Arquitectura no. 361 (Autumn 2010): 88-91. /// Javier F. Contreras. “El Organicismo Expandido” CIRCO no. 153. Madrid: M.R.T. Coop, 2009. /// Javier F. Contreras, Gabriel N. Duarte, and Roberto Gª Caballero. “It’s Not Just Grass! Subverting Legal Planning and the Reinvention of the Dutch Process-Landscape Agenda 2000 & the C2751” In 306090 vol.8, Autonomous Urbanism, edited by Alex Duval, and Kjersti Monson [New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005], 21-30. /// INTERVIEWS /// “Depuis Rue Las Cases. A Conversation with India Mahdavi” Interview by Javier F. Contreras. In India Mahdavi, edited by Chronicle Chroma [Los Angeles: Chronicle Books, 2021] /// Javier F. Contreras, and Graeme Brooker. “The Future is Interior and Interiorised” Interview by Marco Costantini, and Claire Favre Maxwell. RADDAR no. 2 (2020), 192-213. /// Irma Boom. “Within Pages, Beyond Books” Interview by Javier F. Contreras, and Lilet Breddels. In Herbarium of Interiors, edited by J. F. Contreras, Y. Kravtchenko, A. Oosterman, L. Breddels [Amsterdam: Archis-Volume, 2020], 42-47. /// Javier F. Contreras. “Architecture d’intérieur. Espace et Communication” Interview by Nic Ulmi. In IN MY HEAD, edited by Julie E. Julliard [Geneva: HEAD – Genève, 2020], 240-243. /// Jean-Pierre Greff, and Javier F. Contreras. “Dialogue sur l’enseignement de l’architecture d’intérieur” Interview by Roberto Zancan. In L’architecture par l’intérieur, edited by Roberto Zancan [Geneva: MetisPresses, 2018], 185-205.
Javier Fernández Contreras (Dipl. ETSAM 2006, PhD 2013) is a Geneva-based architect, design theorist, and the Dean of the Department of Space Design at HEAD – Genève. His work explores the relationship between architecture, representation and media, with a specific focus on the role of interiors in the construction of contemporaneity. Contreras is the director of several BA, MA and research programs, including MAIA (Master of Arts in Interior Architecture) and Scènes de Nuit, a research platform investigating the entanglements between night and architecture. He is the author of the books Fragmentos de Planta y Espacio (2018), The Miralles Projection: Thinking and Representation in the Architecture of Enric Miralles (2020), Manifesto of Interiors: Thinking in the Expanded Media (2021), and co-editor of Scènes de Nuit: Night & Architecture (2021). His critical essays have been published in numerous books and specialised journals, including Marie-José Van Hee Architecten, Massilia Annuaire des Études Corbuséennes, Drawing Matter, India Mahdavi, RA Revista de Arquitectura, RADDAR, and Plan Libre. Contreras is a regular contributor to professional debates, international juries and conferences. His work has earned him prizes in various international competitions, including the Concentrico Design Festival 2020, f’ar Lausanne 2019, and several editions of Europan. His recent projects and distinctions with HEAD – Genève include Train Zug Treno Tren, the opening exhibition at MUDAC Lausanne in 2022; the invitation to the 2021 Seoul Architecture Biennale for the Circa Diem project (in collaboration with the EPFL); the Brands and Communication Red Dot Award 2020 and the Innovation Frame Award 2020 for the Space Duality project; as well as a Design Prize Switzerland 2019 nomination for the #Looslab project.
This website is an index of selected projects and writings.