Space for a thriving context

After graduating architecture from the Institut Saint-Luc de Tournai (ISA Saint-Luc de Tournai) of UCLouvain (Université Catholique de Louvain), Olivier Camus and Lydéric Veauvy founded TANK in Lille in 2005. Their work results from a strong commitment to creating sensitive architecture in which the context resonates. The firm’s approach addresses the ecological and economical challenges the architectural profession is facing today, while defending stronger cultural values of beauty and harmony at the same time.


The standard path

We are both French and we met in Belgium at the beginning of our studies at ISA Saint Luc de Tournai. We developed a real rapport as far as group projects were concerned, out of friendship. In addition to that rapport, we wanted to work with a strong team to think carefully about how we would approach architectural design. The first important competition that we competed in and won together as TANK, with the College Claude Lévi Strauss in Lille, was an important marker of our history. The project has a powerful relationship to its context, strong and sensitive materiality, spatial expressiveness. We started with small private orders, houses, renovations, and gradually arrived at doing public commissions: a rather traditional professional path in France.


A multitude of activities

Our first beautiful project stories are those of the first individual houses; these small, stimulating and economical projects resulting from very sustained exchanges with their various owners. This is where our attention to experience, intimacy, use and listening was born. In the absence of tricks, an observation: being honest (about the economy, objectives, etc.) does not always allow you to win competitions! And that is really difficult. What sometimes appears as a weakness on the part of those who judge the competitions also remains the responsibility of the architects capable of promising everything.


We are both teachers at Saint-Luc, and our point of view is that we’re there to train people to be armed to enter the profession: creatives with added value, not just good draughtsmen. We try to teach our students that what lies at the core of our activity is creativity, a capacity for in-depth thinking, an ability to see the big picture, and a sense of ethical responsibility.


Allowing nature to manifest itself

In our projects we try to leave room for nature. Although it might seem like a romantic position (and I’m comfortable with that), I especially like the 2+2 House and the Little House overgrown with weeds, lost in a kind of wasteland. It’s just free, wild nature expressing itself and taking over. This attitude, which we share, sometimes creates difficulties with landscape designers. We’re more naturalists and environmentalists than gardeners—the work and philosophy of Gilles Clément is essential for me (Olivier). 


A profession of multitasking

We are not heroes, just two architects who seek to work well while continuing to be creative and to have fun, to take pleasure in designing pleasant and happy places. We understand that this profession requires a certain public acknowledgement, a certain visibility to access a commission. Architects are still too often perceived by the general public as ‘heroic’, or at least as media figures. But we are both very private, our public lives as architects are limited to what is strictly necessary. It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile these two lives. The profession has changed: before, the architect was there to draw plans, to design the layout, to be creative. Today, one has to spend a lot of time managing a thousand useless problems (admin, standards, etc.) and there is never enough time for architecture.


A passion for the craft

We moved to our Lille office a few years ago, the offices used to be a family house and we redesigned it and turned it into an office.  We would like to say that we are well organised but we really are not, we were not trained in running large methodical agencies. We are rather passionate craftsmen, our office is like a big family, where the creative energy compensates for the lack of organisation. Our studio is a space where we always find attention and kindness for everyone, but as in any family, there are hierarchies of knowledge and experience. Everyone has an appropriate role and can express his or her talent, and we all discuss our different ideas and approaches. The intuitions that arise from these many discussions are tested using models in our model shop.


Attracting the right clientele

I (Oliver) feel a growing gap between what should be done and what each brief requests, I think that we have not yet fully undertaken the necessary measures of societal transformations in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The public competition, which is passed mainly by the competitions, does not allow for, or only allows a little, research on these subjects, we remain in a framework of having to deliver very fast answers. Research or reflection work must be done upstream. Sometimes there is a bigger opportunity to explore new avenues through private commissions, it’s less regulated, less restricting and predetermined, and the client is more open to new possibilities. As architects, we fight for humanistic values in a system that is not designed to produce them. But we’re lucky enough to attract clients who want to travel down the same road as us. We are currently working on a couple of large-scale projects, including the new headquarters of Groupe Lesaffre in Marcq-en-Baroeul, and the redevelopment of the Site des anciens Pêtres, Carré Janson in Tournai, which are now both under construction.


The problem with materials

We have to quickly find a way to make architecture that does not harm our presence on/ relationship to earth. How can architecture save the world? It is a heroic aspiration. Unfortunately, we don't have an obvious solution today, apart from profound transformations in our consumerist societies. We are aware that we will have to invent new ways of practising our profession in order to finally take care of our planet and the people who inhabit it. This necessarily involves new ways of working and new ways of getting paid: it's absurd to be paid today for the percentage of materials used in a project when it should be the opposite! We try to develop precise details but simple solutions. The use of single materials means we can preserve quality in terms of composition, framing and proportions; it supports the physical and visual force of the buildings. We are wary of expensive façades and fad-dish skins. The quality of a building should not lie solely in the material you add onto it.


TANK Portraits Nov2021 cJulienLanoo 20211124 Scan046 LD

TANK Monographe 02

TANK Sketches 2014 02 HD

Images courtesy of TANK

250 Carre Janson Chantier cJulienLanoo 20220325 Scan004 LD

185 Erdre cJulienLanoo 20190722 0428 LD

155 HalledeCalais cJulienLanoo 20150621 1641 LD

155 HalledeCalais cJulienLanoo 20150621 1046 LD

Photography Julien Lanoo

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