Clean air and concrete: A look into Bureau Bas Smets

Founded in 2007 in Brussels, Bureau Bas Smets boasts an impressive career that has seen projects completed in 12 countries – including Estonia, France and the United States – alongside his 17-strong team. Working on small-scale gardens, public parks, urban infrastructures and film sets, Bas Smets creates striking landscapes using what’s at hand. Based out of an office appropriately overrun with plants, Smets’ focus is on everything but the building itself. In the second installment of a brand new series enquiring some of the country’s most innovative architecture firms – both upcoming and established -, we talk to Smets about his constant exploration of all things, from the versatility of his new Madou-based workspace to his conceptual approach to architecture and air-cleaning plants, all while the office is busy prepping for their 10-year anniversary.

Visuals (c) Carlos Àlvarez Clemente

How did you find your studio and why did you choose it?

We moved here three months ago. It’s a typical building from the 60s that was refurbished by OFFICE KGDVS. We totally stripped the place totally down to reveal its original raw materials. I love having windows on both sides of the building, and the views from it – you can see the sun go up and back down. I started my practice from my apartment’s living room, so I like to think that this office, with its large kitchen, is in the same way another versatile space where many things can happen. For example, we just enjoyed a really big reception to celebrate our 10-year anniversary.

How does your workspace relate to your conceptual approach to landscape architecture?

I spend lot of time on project sites. As landscape architects we can’t do 1:1 models here, but we still try many things. We have all kind of material samples on us. For example, we’re now experimenting with some air-cleaning interior plants that have been tested by NASA. We want to use them to clean the air and produce oxygen for a space. We recently used them in an exhibition, too.

How much non-computer-based work you do?

I ask my collaborators to sketch a lot, and we do create a big number of models, even in concrete. Personally, I don’t use the computer to draw; I sketch everything by hand instead.

You’ve just moved into a new office, designed by OFFICE KGDVS – but if you were to hire any other architect in the world, regardless of cost, who would it be?

For my next office I would ask the prolific Jun’ya Ishigami.

What is next in the Bureau Bas Smets universe?

We’ve just inaugurated a monument celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our current projects are a memorial place in Norway for the Utøya attacks, a collaboration in Arles with Frank Gehry and another in Long Island. We’re constantly rethinkinging our idea on the role of landscape as the organisation of the territory. For example, we’re also currently competing to build a penitentiary, asking ourselves how we could bring nature into a prison.