Xavier Houben, along with his team at Naïf, is the architect behind SQ’s new spaces. We met up with this humble and innovative character.
Tell us, what is it you do?
When I became a co-worker at Silversquare, I challenged Axel on the offices’ aesthetics. He then asked me what I would do if I were the architect.
I explained that, rather than working with a single agency, who would give each space the same visual identity, I would work with different artists for each one. Abandon the more narrowed approach in favour of greater diversity. Give each space its own headline...
But working with artists can be complicated, no?
Firstly, we make sure to only select artists with likeable personalities! Moreover, artists generally work for what they believe in. They feel they are doing something worthwhile, something that is moving the world forward. This is a real force. What I find interesting is their freethinking approach. We are reinventing the wheel every time, which can prove complicated.
However, it is very important to restore artists to their rightful place. Up until 200 years ago, they were central to the world of architecture. I find it surprising that they have lost this status. For me, this is a return to normality.
How does this work in practice?
We began with Lionel Jadot, the designer behind SQ Delta. He convinced members, investors and teams of the relevance of his approach. The results were instantaneous. We achieved the desired occupancy level a year ahead of schedule. It proved a success, so it opened the door to designing further spaces. We were given free rein to innovate and create a distinctive atmosphere.
So, are artists passing off as architects?
No, we impose certain guidelines that allow us to reproduce the office’s layout. Next, we pick an artist and introduce them to the board. We teach the artist to become a designer, training them in lighting, safety regulations and prototype creation alongside a carpenter.
Some tell a story, while others will draw whatever they feel like. We then assign the site to an architectural firm and have meetings with them, ensuring that they do not distort the project's artistic quality.
Did you hit any stumbling blocks?
We are building very complicated puzzles and are learning as we go. We often make mistakes, acknowledge them, and correct them... or not! For example, the reception at Stephanie was not fulfilling its role, so we redesigned it to be at the heart of its community. Today, it is proving to be one of the most efficient receptions.
Since nothing is standardised, we need to reinvent the wheel every time. This can create a lot of tension and frustration during the building process. It’s funny, however, how this also brings even greater pride in the project. From the construction workers to the investors, everyone is proud of what they achieve together.
What impact does this artistic approach have on the SQ community?
We found that members are equally proud of their offices. They often welcome visitors, which is good for business. Our goal is completely in line with SQ’s philosophy of increasing people’s quality of life while contributing to their overall well-being and happiness.
I have experienced this myself. I originally had a 140sqm office in an old town house. When we joined the co-working space, we moved into a 17sqm office. The team was very unhappy. We did not even have our own printers or enough space to lay out plans. However, after a month at SQ, the team no longer wanted to leave. We even switched to a shared space, with a private office only used for storing materials.
When open spaces are done well, they are much more beneficial than offices. You are surrounded by 100, 200, sometimes even 600sqm of space! Even though you are sharing it with others, you feel less confined, even interacting with those around you. SQ’s work environment is more enriching than an architects’ studio. I have also discovered Silversquare’s pulling power, as I have no qualms in encouraging talented individuals from other offices to join us.
How do you see the future?
We will continue to experiment and reinvent ourselves. We may eventually see spaces designed by disabled people or using only second-hand materials... Anything is possible. We will continue to reinvent the wheel!
Collaborations with artists
SQ Delta with Lionel Jadot
SQ Zaventem with Jane Haesen (Lady Jane, Brussels DJ)
SQ Bailli with Krjst Studio, tapestry artistic duo.
April: Opening of SQ Europe’s ground floor with Sebastien Caporusso (Italian-inspired designer)
July: Opening of SQ Central (Central Station) in collaboration with design studio MANIERA
January: Opening of SQ Kanal (in the Quatuor building) with Belgian singer/rapper Lous & the Yakuza
May: Opening of SQ Guillemins in Liege with Jean-Paul Lespagnard
Interview by Muriel Van Severen of SQ Louise