in 2005, olivier camus and lydéric veauvy, friends and classmates from architecture school, decided to create their own firm. ‘I don’t recall having made any individual project without consulting each other,’ veauvy tells designboom. ‘the idea to create something together was always there during our studies, but it was not pronounced.’ 16 years later, TANK is still going strong and has since developed a reputation for creating sensitive architecture that resonates with its context.
as the firm is based in lille, a city in northern france close to the belgian border, much of the studio’s work is informed by the region’s weather, climate, and materiality. ‘our projects are very attentive to light, we are very much aware that the north and the south, the east and the west, are not fixed realities on a cross in a map, but rather much more subtle according to the seasons,’ explains olivier camus. in our in-depth interview below, the duo discuss why wood is a ‘magical’ material and how the role of the architect has changed over the years.
TANK’s atelier in lille, france | image © TANK
designboom (DB): can you start by telling us how you met, and why you decided to set up an office together?
lydéric veauvy (LV): we entered saint luc in tournai in the same year, and quickly formed a friendship based on exchanges and discussions around architecture. we built a demanding and uncompromising bond with each other based on how we approach architectural design. I don’t recall having made any individual project without consulting each other. the idea to create something together was always there during our studies, but it was not pronounced. we had each come a long way on our own, but then after taking the time to share our motivations, and establish the objectives and balance of an architectural partnership, we decided to create TANK.
olivier camus (OC): we developed a real rapport as far as group projects are concerned, out of friendship. in addition to that rapport, we wanted to work with a strong team to think carefully about how we would approach architectural design.
2+2 houses, villeneuve-d’ascq, france, 2005 | image © julien lanoo
DB: in what ways does the weather, climate and materiality of northern france influence your projects?
LV: the geography is, of course, pertinent to a project. more broadly, it is through the relationship to the landscape, to materiality, to the poetry found in the passing of time, that our projects and the choreography of their forms uncover their ‘atmospheric capacity’: the variations of the sky, the alternations of rain and sun, and rain under the sun, certainly invite us to express the course of water, the overflows, the play of shadow and light, matter as a partner in the variations of seasons, an art of building that is conscious of these elements, and the passing of time.
OC: our projects are very attentive to light, we are very much aware that the north and the south, the east and the west, are not fixed realities on a cross in a map, but rather much more subtle according to the seasons. the materiality of the north, although we have used brick extensively, is not necessarily an influence. it is above all the context, the local, low-carbon materials, and the know-how that interests us. it is also very difficult to find these right materialities in an industrialized and globalized world.
school buffon, roubaix, france, 2011 | image © julien lanoo
DB: you often use wood in your projects. what characteristics of the material make it desirable to you?
OC: wood is a natural material, not an extraction material. it’s very tactile, it feels and smells good, has beautiful sonority, and is easy to work with. one could say that is one of the rare materials that is accessible to everyone, there is a certain richness, you can make anything with wood: frameworks, façades, furniture, anything, that’s why it’s quite magical. it gives access to an understanding of the building. we went through an opaque phase where the buildings were somewhat abstract. we promoted the expression before construction. we often struggle with that, the temptation to be more sculptural and abstract, and the desire to be more readable, more artisanal, etc. — wood for such expressions bears many qualities. it is with the projects built in wood that we are able to be most creative and free in the office.
LV: we try to develop precise details, but simple solutions. the use of single materials means we can preserve quality in terms of composition, framing and proportions; it supports the physical and visual force of the buildings. the quality of a building should not lie solely in the material you add onto it.
maison mouvaux, lille, france, 2019 | image © julien lanoo
read more about the project on designboom here
DB: we recently published your project ‘maison mouvaux’. what was the brief for this house, and what did you set out to achieve with your design?
LV: the clients wanted a ‘secretive and simple’ house, respectful of the largely wooded site. our ambition was to create an architecture that eluded the size of the program, and had the ability to slip into and towards the tree line on the site. very quickly, the idea of two very strong experiences: being a ‘protector’ in the trees, one who experiences all the sequences offered on the ground floor, and one who benefits from very strong inside and outside: a project capable of multiplying the poetic and sensitive composition of sky, trees, and the very strong presence of the site’s landscape.
maison mouvaux, lille, france, 2019 | image © julien lanoo
OC: we explored the notion of ‘secrecy’ and quickly started working on the interlacing of spaces — spaces that are open to one another, and open to the garden, while at the same time remain hidden and private. it’s like a bourgeois house in which you find rooms for each purpose, but also modern. we used different variations of wood in different nuances, which allowed us to explore this duality and achieve a balance between intimate and open, comfortable and welcoming, as well as open to the exterior and to the panoramic view of the garden at the same time. there are almost no corridors in the house and we’ve worked intensively on the perspectives: the relationships between the different rooms, the interior perspectives, moments and relationships between the garden and the interior that we uncover throughout the whole house. these are all adapted to little domestic rituals, small moments of life.