MAD Brussels: Belgian Subtlety at its Best

On April 20, 2017, a new center for fashion and design comes to roost in Brussels’ lively Dansaert neighborhood.

On the 20th of April, the heretofore nomadic team of MAD Brussels will finally find a home — in a new, all-white center for fashion and design created by Brussels architecture office V+ and Rotor, a collective specializing in the reuse of building materials. Since 2010, the organization has staged exhibitions and workshops all around the city, making cameo appearances at international fairs from Salone Satellite in Milan, to Paris’s Maison & Objet and IMM Cologne. The new headquarters, located in a central neighborhood known for its fashion stores and small boutiques, include 3,000 meters of space for temporary exhibitions, workshops and conferences, and promise to become a fundamental element of the city’s design landscape.
The building results from four years of planning that began in 2013, with V+ and Rotor’s winning proposal for an open architecture competition. Initially, the team planned to raze the site’s three existing structures — a modernistic commercial space from the 1960s, a warehouse, and a building with a faux 18th-century façade, which together once formed a decoration store and its storage depot — and to start with a veritable tabula rasa. But they ultimately decided to keep most of the original structures, a philosophy emphasizing reuse that fits perfectly with Rotor’s signature working method.
The resulting product, which still boasts traces from the past, is indeed much richer than it might have been: every corner features a different typology. This diversity of contexts and styles will provide a compelling backdrop for the institution’s exhibitions, infusing every presentation with a specific aura of time and place.

Open and Airy

While the three structures used to be rather dark and oppressive, the new MAD Brussels is an open, airy structure. By breaking up the caves in the warehouse and removing their ceilings, the team produced an ample central hall and foyer with high ceilings. Natural light flows into the heart of the building, improving visitor circulation and transforming the small, cramped interspaces into fully usable exhibition galleries.
Movement is also encouraged up on the new roof terrace, which features plants and an outdoor garden concept. By inviting visitors to cross the building’s long floors, which bridges two distinct districts of the city, MAD Brussels wants to associate two diverse neighborhoods within Daensart —one side more actively gentrified, full of trendy bars and cafes, and the other housing lower-income residents. Moreover, the structure’s diversity is reflected in its two distinct facades: the smaller, modernistic façade on the Nieuwe Graanmarkt, which has now been given a facelift, and the brand-new window-wall at the Papenvest.

It’s in the Details

Throughout their redesign, the team preserved and crafted subtle details and sculptural surprises. Outside, a flight of sculptural stairs lead from the terrace to the upper story of the building. On the roof, a small outhouse still acts as the elevator cage, and inside, the original elevator remains, its charming casing made from bricks.
To prevent these details from overwhelming the experience, however, V+ and Rotor chose the color white as their unifying design principle — and it dominates both the exterior and the interior of the building. The simplicity of the color finds its complement in a restrained mixture of banal and luxurious materials, from a typical rubber Pirelli-floor – a wink to the Brussels metro – to a swath of wall covered with Carrara marble. With its unified aesthetic and its abundance of small surprises, MAD Brussels is Belgian subtlety at its best.

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