Building Sur-real Fictions
A conversation with Studio Narra on the power of narrative within the architectural practice.



YEAR: 2019
LOCATION: Bellinzona, Switzerland
PROFESSOR: Kersten Geers

– Food hub hybrid as a learning device –

The project lands in Bellinzona, noticeable for its castles and a place seen from transportation devices. A case study of (sub)urban palaces, castles, objects in the city of simultaneous living, working and agriculture. A question of large scale territorial management. Devices of autonomy in the midst of the light city – bigger than a town but not yet not the density of a city while everything is somehow in reach.

Food defines who we are and where we come from. It is one of the biggest global industries but it still has its local importance. Historically, the development of cities has been inextricably connected to its production, supply and distribution, yet with the migration of rural communities to urban cities, the human population has become increasingly removed from sites of agricultural production and less aware of how their food is made. The direct relationship between producer and consumer is now separated by an everexpanding line of middle-man entities including distributors, processors and retailers.

This Food hub has the potential to alleviate this bottleneck of inefficiency by consolidating supplies into shared facilities for local farmers and locating them strategically within cities. The aim is to create shared facilities for local farmers to distribute their food to more consumers and global entities. It is a hybrid typology of combing working+ living+ food. The object becomes a learning device, in this case by the means of food.



YEAR: 2017
LOCATION: Brussels, Belgium
PRIZES: Best Bachelor project KUL, 2017

– From a post industrial to a productive city by juxtaposing industry and modernism –

Our site is located next to the Abattoir -a magnet for trading activities since 1888- and the Canal of Brussels. It will be the new productive spine of Brussels with a variety of new industries. A place where the boundary between the thinkers and the makers will fade, where research, creativity and production come together with a circular economy. Due to the dedication and diversity within the community, a new climate for a lively ecosystem where collaborations can arise. A dream of living, working, facilities and self- sufficiency in one location. It is important to make the production processes attractive and to show them to the public in order to create a vibrant community. This approach is more environmentally-friendly, reduces commuting and brings many jobs for the low- skilled.
The Canal zone in Molenbeek has a vibrant industrial past and even now with its immensive second-hand car trade. Where, according to the modernist approach, this fascinating, historical layer is wiped away to place serial objects on it, our intervention forms a juxtaposition of the two urban structures. The whole site will be a carpet, a reinterpreted layer of halls that reflects the industrial character, with pure objects placed on them. These objects define the surrounding space so that there is a fascinating ambiguity between on the one hand ‘boring’, generic volumes and on the other hand a strong urban presence.



YEAR: 2020
LOCATION: Basel, Switzerland
PROFESSOR: Aires Mateus

– Archetype of the tent as an existing Open Architecture -

The topic of the Atelier suggested making an infrastructure that allows the wildest possibilities to happen. A paradigm in itself, an open and unspecific architecture without any program. Tents have been used for so many programs through history; always been charged with a local cultural meaning, yet understood and experienced by everyone. Thus it becomes almost self evident to use this shape as a symbol for infrastructure. Yet at the same time it is referred to something degradable, temporary, nomadic. Therefore I continued the semester’s paradox into the paradox of permanent temporality, the idea to solidify an ephemeral tent; from something soft into something hard; movement into stillness; tension to compression.
The material condition is defined by the concept of the of a tent. By casting with textile formwork the concrete subverts it stereotypical associations from rigid and dense to fluid and light. The material captures the memory of the textile imprint with all its weaving and stitches. After the textile is removed, we look at a memory of a textile that was once there.
I wanted to connect to the past of the dying factories in this area and The textile industry has a massive negative impact on the nature with all the harmful chemicals used in the production process. By replacing these synthetical chemical with natural ones, the textiles can release these substances that are beneficial for our health. This also creates awareness of the value of dying textiles with natural materials. Research shows that the dying of textile with natural resources for health reasons is already done for thousands of years. Besides their physical advantage, these particles and their aromatics get released by wind, touch or heat also create a scent that evokes memory. The herbs and fruits used for the dying/pigmenting are all locally sourced in Switzerland, most of these natural ingredients are specialized to improve the respiratory system and give a sense of comfort. They also create a yellow to brown hue in general.


KOOZ How would you define the ethos of your practice with three words?

SN Storytelling / Oxymorons / Optimistic

The multiple facets of reaching a clean ecological footprint as durability, resilience, and renewable energies are key design elements at the beginning of every design.

KOOZ How and to what extent have your studies informed the way you now operate as young architects?

SN We both started to study at the KULeuven in Belgium, a university with strong roots in rationality and engineering. This aspect of carefully looking at structure, simplicity and mathematics is clearly still visible in our work, yet the continuation of our studies also inserted other “operations”. Studying in the Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio and the Politecnico di Milano taught us to look more carefully at the true fundamentals of architecture, specifically its space, plans and sections.

KOOZ What parameters inform the kind of projects the studio engages with?

SN Studio Narra is a multi-disciplinary design studio that is always open for creative opportunities as long as they can tell a compelling narrative. These stories are defined by oxymorons which establish a unique framework with its own rules, textures and techniques. It balances on the constant tension of rigidity and organic flows between spaces, light & darkness and the vernacular craft & global solutions. Lastly, as conscious architects we take the contemporary climate policies as an opportunity to create new and relevant contributions to the built environment of tomorrow. The multiple facets of reaching a clean ecological footprint as durability, resilience, and renewable energies are key design elements at the beginning of every design.

KOOZ How do you approach the development of a project from conception to completion?

SN We usually start by observing and formulating ourselves (too) many questions. Then we can actually start the design process. While one dives in the physicalization of the project more quickly, the other starts researching and creating a framework around the project. These paths constantly collide, resulting in productive discussions and answers to our questions.

Storytelling is truly essential to us as architects are basically spatial storytellers that build sur-real fictions. Narratives have the potential to conduct sensory experiences where guests engage emotionally and have a feeling of wonderment.

KOOZ What role do narrative and storytelling play within this process?

SN We conduct a multi-disciplinary studio striving to create story-telling projects, whether it is an architecture project, furniture, research or a vast urban plan.

Storytelling is truly essential to us as architects are basically spatial storytellers that build sur-real fictions. Narratives have the potential to conduct sensory experiences where guests engage emotionally and have a feeling of wonderment. The beauty of telling stories is also that one is not defined by any style, time or method, which we believe is very important.

Surprisingly… We also curate the design platform Objects With Narratives whose name is simply our vision.

KOOZ What is for you the power of the architectural imaginary?

SN Today imagery might be more important than ever, especially due to the upcoming virtual realm of architecture. NFT’s can even make imagery more valuable than the project itself. Clients expect their to-be-built project to look like the images they see. Project developpers need imagery to sell their property. So imagery has the power to tell the narrative of a project as the power to become a project in itself.


Studio Narra is founded by two complementary Belgian brothers called Nik & Robbe Vandewyngaerde based in Geneva and Amsterdam. Nik Vandewyngaerde graduated as an engineer & architect at the KU Leuven and Politecnico di Milano. He then worked for several years as an architect at Herzog & de Meuron in Basel. Robbe Vandewyngaerde is an architect & designer graduated at the ‘Accademia di architettura di Mendrisio’, Switzerland who worked for OMA in Rotterdam and JDSA in Brussels. They gained experience working on international projects ranging from masterplans, mixed-use skyscrapers, housing, offices, public buildings, musea, interior projects, renovations, extensions and furniture design. They also founded the design platform Objects With Narratives.

Project co-authors include: Luca Piccoli, Alessandro Sala, Laura Hegner [A Castle In The Countryside] and Oskar Vanhulst, Adriaan Vandaele, Sam Neel [The Productive City: Masterplan and Social Housing]

14 Jan 2022
Reading time
8 minutes
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