Valentina Acierno
Vicens Vidal
Victor Rahola
Xabier Eizaguirre
Xabier Unzurrunzaga
Xavier Fàbregas
Xavier Monteys
Xavier Rubert de Ventós
Zaida Muxí
Àlex Giménez
Amador Ferrer
Angel Martín
Anton Pàmies
Antoni Llena
Antoni Marí
Antonio Font
Aquiles González
Ariella Masboungi
Axel Fohl
Beth Galí
In the early nineties, the City and the River association had entrusted
Manuel with developing the project for the Islette in Antwerp. I acted as consultant for the client, and got to exchanging and dining with Manuel on most of his regular visits to Antwerp. For me and the Belgian colleagues that witnessed them, these discussions were absolutely seminal. By their emphasis on the many scale levels of the urban project, they actually introduced a new way of thinking urbanism in our country. For critics like me, who were thoroughly discontent with the condition of urban planning at that moment, they acted as a revelation.
Amongst other considerations, Sola’s project for the Islette aimed at the densification of the existing settlement structure by incorporating slim tower constructions in the heart of the nineteenth century building blocks. Such recipe allowed him to combine the preservation of the large water surfaces with the ambition of intensifying urban activity. It generated marks of “innovation”, separated by “critical distances”, in a texture that mainly spoke of continuity at the level of the passers-by. I interrogated Manuel about the difficulties of the scheme he had produced: the complicated connection between the middle of the block and the street which accessibility provision required, the conflict between the open view from
the towers and the back side privacy of the surrounding housing, the contrast in scale between the two main morphological components, etc…Saying that I was absolutely right, Manuel explained me that precisely these observations urged the urban designer to address the issues at a more detailed scale level. If you have the nerve to propose an urban solution that requires specific architectural treatment in order to make it work, he argued, you should at least have one solution in mind that solves the problem you create. He went on saying that Neutelings would be a perfect architect for this first tower along the Nassaustraat. Manuel contended that he would probably come up with far more adequate tower than the one he had drawn. Yet, in order to get there, he claimed he would probably have to confront him with all the inherent difficulties of the design. In order to do that, he would need to develop an urban design that already addressed all these problems on the level of architecture, even when it was clear that he would not be the architect of these buildings.
At the time, these words were ground-breaking. So much, that years later, when conceiving the Leuven Railway Station project, I wanted to confront their author with the full meaning I gave them. I asked Manuel de Solà-Morales whether he would be willing to act as architect for the crucial piece of the urban project we had envisioned for the Station
surroundings together with the Projectteam Stadsontwerp. Before actually inviting Manuel and matching what he had taught me in Antwerp, we had of course studied the ways in which the problems initiated by the urban concept could be solved architecturally: the entrance and exit of the underground parking from both sides of a tunnel that separated the amenity into two, the cut such tunnel inevitably caused in the movement from city to station, the hinge position of the bus transfer and the smooth relation with the pedestrian underpass of the tracks, the fundamental asymmetry of the site and the need to close and yet balance the station square… As he would have considered important on the side of the architects he intended to work with in Antwerp, Manuel listened diligently to what me and my team had to say. And afterwards, he obviously did better than we could have ever imagined. I’m still convinced however, that the reason why he came up with such an ingenious concept for the Leuven multi-modal interchange, had to do with the fact that we were able to put the right questions. For sure the answer he gave would not have been possible without his immense talent of rightly configuring complex spatial relationships. But the intricate layering of his proposal also echoed the unbiased relationship between urban designer and architect, which he had himself inspired. / Leuven