B is - a story through projects of B-architecten, B-bis & B-city

It’s a book! This is the baby we have been looking forward to show you for a while now: ‘B is’, a story through projects of B-architecten, B-bis and B-city. This abc of B guides you through (almost) 25 years of what started out as B-architecten, and since became a threefold architecture and urban design studio with multiple specialisms that above all consists of a great team.

'B is' is for sale at Copyright bookshop in Antwerp and Ghent or online.

B is

B is – a compact combination of a capital B and a present tense verb that resembles a conclusion, appears as vivid as it is simple. And it makes sense. For what began modestly yet ambitiously as B-architecten at the end of the last century, is today an established name with significant resonance, involving a team of over 60 people. This strong position has been achieved through their dedication and drive; an accomplishment worthy of pride. Yet there is more to it than that.

While at first glance ‘B is’ indicates a status, it primarily refers to the choice ‘to be’ – and, as such, provides a vital answer to that one question that has been raised for four hundred years on countless stages and remains inevitable. In response, ‘B is’ implies a commitment. To be awake and alive to the world, and to actively participate in it. Whereby B aims to positively transform the urban context and through that, to improve the quality of life for all citizens; guided by notions of sustainability and human scale, equality and inclusiveness, excellence, innovative technology, and optimal use of space.

B is more than the sum of its parts

To effectively bring about constructive transformations in the complex and historically grown reality of a contemporary city, it is necessary to consider as many facets as possible, ranging from larger and encompassing urban concepts and planning, to the nature and layout of social housing and the monumental value of a weathered façade. A precondition that led B to take on additional titles over the years and gradually branch out into separate but interlinked departments. Whereby B refers to B-architecten as well as B-bis and B-city and all those combined.

Within this threefold alliance, each part has its own purpose, but never stands alone, unitedly pursuing an architecture that relates to life and living together, to contemporary challenges and anticipated problems. It is both a strategy and a sincere mindset that leads B to be as committed to the conceptualisation and realisation of an eco-friendly soft city, as it is to the design of a special school or a community centre. To focus equally on the appearance of a house or shop; the capturing format of an exhibition; or the enduring atmosphere of a public square. For the city is not only about domicile and employment, and less about outward prestige or a display of power, but about belonging and experiencing, and the dynamics of a culture.

What results is a multitude of projects that envision a city as a well-considered network of places where it is good to live, visit and linger, not only today but also tomorrow and every day thereafter. Through its projects, B does not limit itself to the large cities alone, but also addresses the needs of a provincial town or a village centre. The only restriction that applies is that the free space and natural environment in between remains intact, or even preferably increased. And when B does design for the city, it brings the qualities of the countryside to the densely built-up environment.

B is a shared effort

The dedication and spirit with which B approaches the city and, through it, the world, also inspires the way in which B organises its internal operations. In doing so, B avoids the traditional top-down power structures where the directors set the bar, and radically replaces this outdated norm with a reciprocal and therefore horizontal approach. Put simply, it amounts to the idea that everyone who is part of B takes on a role or responsibility that corresponds to the talents and interests that characterise them, not only as a professional, but, above all, as an autonomous individual.

As such, B is a versatile body consisting of equal actors where everyone plays an appropriate role, and where the eventual outcome is not so much imposed, as it is born out of a shared commitment. And because B is above all a creative collaboration, the collectiveness is extended into the ownership of each plan or project. So, a decision is always a shared one, discussed and evaluated in detail in designated ‘chambers’ – until everyone involved commits to what is on the table, and the results are enriched by the expertise, ingenuity, and imagination of all.

However, it would be a mistake to leave it at that. Because even B and its team of 65, regularly call on external partners and allies, involving them and encouraging them to co-determine the outcome. Just like the clients who become a meaningful and contributing part of a co-creative process and the citizens who, through participatory interviews and deliberative decisions, are given the opportunity to have their say.

B is ever learning

The engagement with people and the ambition to transform the current state of a city for the better, involves constant alertness. Not only in regard to what has been done in the past or what is possible, but also to look ahead to identify opportunities and predict the needs of the urban community through continuous study and research. A task that B takes to heart.

It tackles this with an in-house management that makes learning and the exchange of knowledge an intrinsic part of the daily routine, nourishing and normalising discussions and collaborations. This is supported by the availability of a library, participation in specialised colloquia, seminar attendance, and monthly lectures on thought-provoking topics. Yet is it also about the daily lunches together in the pleasant courtyard garden, the hour of pilates on Wednesday mornings, or the informal, even enjoyable, conversations and mutual collegiality. Because only those who feel good in a place have enough mental space to approach the outside world with motivation and an open mind, to explore and discover things within it – to make change happen.

In other words, it is the cultivation of a fertile soil whose fruits, regardless of how they nourish and determine B’s own projects, most of all benefit society. This happens in the form of publications and impassioned manifestos that influence the vision of architecture socially and politically, through guest lectures at international universities and at round tables that contribute to third-party research. But perhaps most of all, B wants to influence how architecture is experienced and appreciated, and how it can have meaning in people’s growth and development from an early age.

B is here to stay

Although B’s story began back in 1997, the passion to continue moving forwards is stronger than ever. Hence, this book, which is perhaps the best type of portrait; combining physical evidence of introspection and prospecting. Offering a richly illustrated collection of thoughts and imaginative proposals, realisations and expectations, it makes the multifaceted practice and genuine ambitions of B visible and consultable, endorsing the talents and commitment of the designers and people involved.

Like B itself, this book serves as a fostering platform from which to take off, nourished by what has preceded, and simultaneously oriented towards the future. It contains both the projects that still exist and those that have, by their very nature, already disappeared. Projects that are cherished, but did not culminate, or those that are still finding their way, their realisation a pending promise.

Everything that is touched upon emphasises how B incites to dream, yet also prompts pragmatism and action, how there is as much attention in the large scale as there is in the small scale, and even in the tiniest detail. Therefore, feel free to step into the pages as if they were a journey. Because B only really gets going when in company, and everyone is welcome.

- Introduction to the book by Jonas Lescrauwaet

Thanks to our collaborators

Author - Jonas Lescrauwaet

Translation - Jonas Lescrauwaet & Harriet Thorpe

Editing - Laura Bonne & Harriet Thorpe

Design and typesetting - SOMEKIND studio

Coordination - Laura Bonne

Photography books - Alexander Popelier