Man is not a spectator or an actor, he is simply nature… - Giuseppe Penone

After a career of more than 20 years, we had the opportunity to review and analise what has meant a lifetime devoted to the field of architecture. We decided to publish a book ( Coussée & Goris Architectuur / Architecture, edited by Ludion) by the end of 2006. With the author, the designer and the artistic director we made a choise among the projects that we did during the past years.

The book is published with no other intention than being a reflection of a professional career. It never tries to be a monograph but a document writing down the bases that have guided our thinking and building up to date. This book serves as a reference to ourselves, of the cognitive process that we have done throughout these years in a intimate and personal way. The book is made as a 'construction piece'. From the outside, is a sensory experience. When you take the book, the cover with its reliefs, already explains our way of working. Actually, even the format of the book helps to understand some of the ideas that have brought us this far. The book is structured like a musical work consisting of 3 parts:

Capriccio - Fugue - Requiem

With this book we try to explain, as clearly and simply as possible, what have meant to us these 20 years of practising architecture. The way we work, with a deep humanistic background, is rooted in our interest in the world of arts and music. Our interest in the writings and work of Giuseppe Penone, for over two decades, is an important point in the development of our work.

Giuseppe Penone (°1947 Garessio) is an Italian artist linked to the Arte Povera. This artistic movement was born in Europe in response to the Pop Art coming from the Anglo-Saxon world, joining several European artists with similar concerns. The movement is characterized by the temporary nature of their works as well as the use of 'poor' and readily available materials: wood, earth, minerals,... Penone bases his work on a meticulous observation of nature, proposing a reflection on the man and the world and its creative capacity.

We share some of these ideas, concepts that constitute the theoretical base for the production of our architecture. These ideas argue not only an end but a process of work, as it was shown in the book. We do not only pursuit a final result or objective, we are concerned about the process. We want to relate elements in a way to be consequent with the path we follow. We look for an attitude, from the conception of an idea until it is transmitted, resulting in a working process that we are faithful to, and in which we try to involve all our partners.

The writings of Penone raise several dichotomies. The first is the dichotomy between absorbing and reflecting the matter, the world of images and ideas. Penone understands that the poet's work is to reflect, like a mirror, the vision that his sensitivity has given him to produce images and visions to the collective fantasy. From Penone’s point of view, the condition of dreaming is blindness. You imagine better with your eyes closed. The light invades the head, with open eyes light is absorbed. With closed eyes images of our thinking are projected in the cranial vault, inside the skin, which becomes limit, division, definition of the body and container of our thinking. The reflected image is the boundary between dream and reality, it is moment that follows the change of reality. The image that is absorbed by the eyes, dies in the eyes. Penone bid to reflect that information to interrupt the view, reflect the images that the eye should see.

Since many years, we felt very identified with this way of thinking.

After 20 years, we achieved the point of a certain maturity from which we can throw our sight back and reflect on the process we followed till now. We can even add one more step in that dichotomy that Penone raised:

absorbing - processing - reflecting

We hereby refer to Martin Heidegger's essay 'Bauen, Wohnen, Denken' with his reflections on the fact of building. This essay had a great influence on Christian Norberg-Schultz writings about the 'genius loci'.

In the first 10 years of activity, we have based our work on absorbing material (work, ideas, experience, relationships). However, in the following 10 years, the process has been reversed once we reached professionalism achieved in the previous years. Perhaps we had reached for ourselves the moment in which we tried to find another way of doing architecture. We achieved the moment of reflecting by expressing clear ideas, extracting out of ourselves what was already there for a while.

In the work of Giuseppe Penone, the second dichotomy he raises is the symbiosis between nature and human body.

'The nature, the European landscape that surrounds us is artificial, is made by man, is a cultural landscape. The action of man has changed the pre-existing nature creating a new one, product of his action and art. The most immediate cultural value of a human endeavor lies in it to be recognizable.' - Giuseppe Penone

As architects we are interested in this relationship between man and nature. The architecture as a way to anthropize the nature and alter the surrounding. A nature that creates spaces wich are modified by human action. Aware architecture to create spaces for men, to be inhabited, with functionality, with the ever-present human scale. Architecture created by man and for man, buildings that become part of the landscape as Penone says: 'We tend to separate the action of the man from the nature, as if the man was not part of it.'

The scenic aspect of our projects becomes very important, understanding fundamental the interplay between the building and the environment in which lies and vice versa. The buildings are part of the landscape as the landscape is part of the project.


Linking to the dichotomy 'absorbing / reflecting' of Penone, the Italian artist delves into other concepts such as the skin. This idea arose some of his most poetic, intimate and sensual as well as disturbing and paradoxical works. The broken skin interrupts the perfect definition of a person and leads to confusion with various elements and matters which, little by little, can subvert and eliminate the identity. It is similar to the distortion of the sound that goes through multiple objects. Perhaps there is a link between the condition of the blind poet, the skin as a package and the mith of Marsias and Apollo, who, after winning a musical competition, saw his opponent Marsias skinned. From our point of view, the importance of the skin in the projects is basic: the treatment of surfaces and textures that produce vibrations, volumes’ shadows that create movement, filtration and treatment of light.

We love to breathe the shadows.

These thoughts turning to the enrichment of our architecture, always keep a very close relationship with the world of the arts. As a result of this inspiration, our projects are treated as musical plays, with a sense of rhythm, cadence, the sequence in the order of the elements, repetition and seriation we developed from a 'industrial' language. In our list of works all these considerations are reflected: austerity(economic and formal), simplicity and order, reaching a degree of maturity, trying to be timeless.

We want to rescue the essence of the everyday, to change the reality of the place, to anthropize the landscape always looking for a rational integration into the immediate surroundings of the project. All this characterization of our work is accomplished through a thorough analysis, a strict method of work and a delicate process of design that never lost sight of the constructive process and the sense of beauty and proportion.

Ghent, January 2009


2024 © Coussée Goris Huyghe architecten

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