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46  |   H O U S E  O F  C H A N G E S  ( “Huis der veranderingen” )

Commissioned for a façade in Brandevoort, Netherlands, by the town’s architect and master planner, Rob Krier
Eight ornamental reliefs, 2006 (planning)/ 2008 (realization)
Brick, glazed and unglazed
Each 210 x 65 cm
With Eberhard Blum.


In May 2006, Rob Krier asked Eberhard Blum if he could imagine designing a series of ornamental reliefs for the façade of a certain building. However, while more than happy to say yes, Blum was at the time unfortunately too unwell to do the work, so that I came up with an idea that both of us could put our names to. And, whereas Krier had doubtless been expecting something lively and ‘expressionistic’ from Blum’s hand, the very different results I then came up with must have pleased him, and his client, for the work was not only projected, but also funded, and carried out to plan.

The façade in question belongs to one of the larger buildings in a completely new town that Krier’s architectural firm had long been developing in southern Holland, between Eindhoven and Helmond. Making liberal use of the multihued klinker so characteristic of the Netherlands, “Brandevoort” has been built in the Brabantine tradition, with an ‘urban’ center—consisting of 1,500 row houses—surrounded by outlying ‘village’ neighborhoods of detached and semi-detached houses. Creating living space for 20,000 residents, its masterplan—like all of Krier’s town- and city-planning work—is distinguished by resolutely articulated spaces and diversified building shapes, with a general layout that is meant to give the impression of an organic whole, evolved over time.  

Blum and I also undertook our work in a spirit of ‘biotic growth,’ not only considering the function of the building we were dealing with—which is made up of four residential upper stories above a commercial ground floor—but the exact structural pattern of its façade’s subtly variegated red-brown brickwork as well, so that we soon arrived at a concept we called HOUSE OF CHANGES.

Closely following the overall rhythms in which the building’s brick was to be laid, we employed sixteen figures from the “Book of Changes,” or I-Ching : patterns of three or six divided and undivided lines, rendered in glazed and unglazed black bricks, whose forms—protruding from the eight slightly recessed fields that straddle the lower two of the residential stories—stand out against the muted red brickwork and intermittent buff-colored banding of the rest of the façade.

“Façades,” plural, would actually give a more accurate idea of the building’s situation, as it stands on a corner of the main square, facing both north and west, at a bend of the canal that flows from north to south through Brandevoort. Two brass plaques have been let into the pavement, one before each building face ; written in Dutch and English—as interest in the planning and architecture of the entire Brandevoort project has been international and enthusiastic—their identical inscriptions give residents, visitors, and passers-by an inkling of the ideas behind the work :

The symmetries of the ornamental reliefs on this façade are derived from an ancient Chinese oracle, the I-Ching. This “Book of Changes” is based on eight trigrams, figures of three divided or undivided lines, which stand for ideas, elements, and objects ; for example : heaven and earth, points of the compass, family members, symbolic animals, attributes, qualities, and situations. These eight trigrams can be combined to form sixty-four hexagrams, figures of six lines, variously interpreted to represent all natural and human phenomena.

It lies, of course, in the nature of oracles to rely on divination, and to come to mean different things to different people. Here, however, we focussed on those qualities attributed through the centuries to our eight trigrams ( exegeses of the hexagrams are legion, and I won’t go into their often obtuse transcriptions here ) that seemed appropriate within a residential situation, choosing to base our design primarily on the following readings :

☰  Three undivided lines : ch’iën, “Yang,” heaven, west, masculine, father
☷  Three divided lines : k’un, “Yin,” earth, north, female, mother
☳  Two divided lines above an undivided line : chen, oldest son
☴  Two undivided lines above a divided line : sun, oldest daughter

☵  One undivided line between two divided lines : k’an, second son
☲  One divided line between two undivided lines : li, second daughter
☶  One undivided line above two divided lines : ken, youngest son
☱  One divided line above two undivided lines : tui, youngest daughter

… whereby the symbols for female family members are to be found on the northern façade, and those for the male on the building’s western side.

To be perfectly honest, HOUSE OF CHANGES seemed to more or less create itself, springing naturally and fully formed out of the façade’s Dutch-clinker rhythms, as if there had been no other reasonable solution.

In the architects’ plans, each of the eight, blank fields on which the ornaments were to be worked was three brick-lengths wide and thirty-five bricks high ; a trigram was thus two bricks wide and five bricks high, and a hexagram two bricks wide and eleven bricks high—with a brick measuring 6 by 21 by 10 centimeters ( plus mortar ).

In the middle of each field, the defining trigram is laid out in horizontal layers of glazed black bricks, which protrude from the surface about five centimeters, or half the brick’s total depth, alternating with rows of the façade’s basic red-brown clinkers, which serve as their background. Each of these central trigrams—whose surfaces all catch the lively, shifting light of the Dutch sky—has, in addition, been doubled to create a hexagram from the I-Ching, with one such combined, six-line character worked in the field above the trigram, and another such below it. Here, in these double figures, the six raised rows of brick protrude by only a quarter of their depth, and have been laid using the same black bricks as in the trigrams but unglazed, so that they appear to be a dull, dark grey.