Lucien Kroll, one of the most important figures in Belgian post-war architecture, is no more. Kroll died on Monday at the age of 95. The Brussels architect was a pioneer in sustainable construction and became widely known for his design of La Mémé, the medical faculty of the Université Catholique de Louvain, which he realized together with students.
Kroll studied architecture at La Cambre and lived and worked in Brussels, where together with his wife Simone he ran the Kroll architectural office.
His achievements include Maison Médicale (La Mémé) in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, the sustainable new housing development Ecolonia in Alphen aan den Rijn and Zilvervloot in Dordrecht. Kroll also designed many schools and (social) housing in Italy, France, Holland and Belgium.
Dag Boutsen, who is an architecture professor at the Luca School of Arts, worked closely with Kroll. He remembers Kroll as the architect “who fought all his life against what modernism has left us.” Inhuman, brutal architecture that contradicts history, Kroll fought with an architecture that was participatory and ecological.”
And in an innovative way. “Lucien saw architecture as a spare parts machine,” explains Boutsen. “He looked at those parts with the computer. He even developed a program for it, as the first architect.” pay, the software was not called randomly. “You can use a computer to create a landscape for and with people, he reasoned.”
Kroll has known different periods as an architect. “His career started out building typical Golden Sixties houses,” says Boutsen, “but it would ultimately be the ideas of May ’68 that definitively defined Kroll’s work.”
“It is the most beautiful result of the thinking from May ’68, namely that architecture is something for and with people.” He put livability first in his designs. “Why do we have to prosecute people in the same homes if they are all different?” According to Boutsen, it was the saying of the architect, who also spread his ideas in articles, with which he fought the mainstream architecture of the time.
Iconic by Kroll’s hand is the metro station Alma (1979-1982), with decorations by his wife Simone, but by far the most famous is still his design of La Mémé. Kroll worked on this student housing complex on UCL’s medical campus in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert until 1971. Unique was his collaboration with students, with whom he was closely involved in design and construction.
La Mémé is thus a good example of Kroll’s so-called ‘participatory architecture’. “Kroll detested an architecture that stands alone and is purely aesthetic,” explains Boutsen. “For him, users, local residents and all other citizens should be able to participate in the design process.”
“Kroll’s designs took into account how most people look at architecture, which is nostalgic,” Boutsen continues. “People like kitsch and decoration. When they travel, they visit an old building or a cathedral precisely because it has grown naturally and contains a lot of charming work.”
The architect integrated this observation into his work. “Roofs that are displaced, nonsensical colors, urban design patterns that carry diversity, this is what characterized Kroll.”
Still, according to Boutsen, Kroll does not get the attention he deserves. “Architecture students around the world, from Japan to the United States, know him as an important seminal figure, but that’s where it ends.”
It has a lot to do with how La Mémé was originally received. Illustrative is how the famous Dutch architect, in his own words, took 30 years to understand the beauty of Kroll’s work.
“Classical critics like Geret Bekaert saw it as a kind of denial of what an architect should do,” recalls Boutsen. “A banal presentation of things,” he believes. “Mémé is the first truly deconstructivist building in the world. True postmodernism with a shell structure (a sustainable shell structure which is then filled in). The concept of ecology may have been an invention of the French philosopher Félix Guattari, but Lucien Kroll translated it into architecture there.”
“Kroll was a forerunner in ecology, participation and shell construction,” concludes Boutsen.