• Léon Stynen, Cinema Rex, 1934. Architectuurarchief Provincie Antwerpen

More about Léon Stynen (1899-1990)

The Belgian architect Léon Stynen commenced his career with a number of competition designs in a Berlagian style, such as that for a war memorial in Knokke (1921). At the same time, he built cottages and art deco houses, shops-cum-residences and apartment buildings in Antwerp, Brussels and Knokke. From the mid-1920s, Stynen delved into the ideas and achievements of the avant-garde, which he strove to realise in a Belgian context. This is evident in the Verstrepen (1927) and Wuyts (1928) houses in Boom in Brasschaat respectively, in which he employed an expressive handling of volumes.

With his designs for the casino in Knokke (1928), he opted resolutely for modernism. In the many commissions for homes, apartment buildings, theatres, schools, rest homes and office buildings that followed, he drew extensively from the ‘new building’ vernacular. He executed several remarkable projects for the Antwerp World Exhibition of 1930, including the decorative arts pavilion, an elegant volume that evoked the style of a packet boat, and the supremely simple De Beukelaer pavilion. Highlights of this period include the Elsdonck residence in Wilrijk (1933) and the Hof ten Bos rest home in Brasschaat (1937).

Also worth mentioning are his own house in the Tentoonstellingswijk in Antwerp (1932), the Cinema Rex in the same city (1934), the Van Parys (1933) and De Beukelaer (1936) homes in Schoten and Brasschaat respectively, and a group of six family houses on Antwerp’s Left Bank (1939). At the end of the 1930s, he enriched his visual language with natural materials. This led to the use of slate as a cladding material in both the Van Thillo house (Ekeren, 1937) and the casino in Chaudfontaine (1938).

After the Second World War, Stynen, together with Paul De Meyer, developed his architectural practice into one of the most important players in the field. The number and scale of the commissions only increased. An emphasis was often placed upon rationality, rigorous proportions and the construction of physically perfect buildings in both execution and finishing. In Ostend, as winners of a competition, they built the casino (1948 onwards), where they attempted to lend modernism a fashionable allure through the incorporation of classical elements.

The Heuvelhof social housing complex in Kessel-Lo (from early 1950), the Zonnewijzer apartment building in Antwerp (1955), the Music Conservatory annexed with the deSingel arts centre in Antwerp (1960 onwards) and the St Rita Church in Harelbeke (1961) are all examples of a refined brutalism, intended as a homage to Le Corbusier. Also controversial was the BP Tower in Antwerp, which was built using innovative construction techniques (1959 onwards).

[Text by Dirk Laureys, Architectuurarchief Provincie Antwerpen]

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