Art of Making
Atelier Vierkant’s architectural ceramics exude a tactility and depth of surface tonality achieved only though a painstaking handmade process.
In Atelier Vierkant’s two factories in Bruges, Belgium, large clay pots in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours stand ready to be shipped to their destinations worldwide – luxurious homes, entrances of grand city hotels and the gardens of beachside resorts, and corridors and atriums of public buildings. Within these spaces, the large distinct forms, earthy tactility, and organic textures and tones of the pots go beyond their functions as planters and decorative accents to become architectural accents and sculptures of art.
Elsewhere in the factories, various processes are taking place: a worker stand on a bed of wooden crates, bent over to reach and shape the insides of a square receptacle nearly as tall as himself; another, tool in hand, etches deep ridges onto the surface of a rotund planter, his hands layered with a coat of creamy clay; yet another is drenched in perspiration by the oven, firing a nearly finished urn (each takes three days to fire). These are typical scenarios for Atelier Vierkant, whose products can only be created in this way – slowly and surely, with dedication, and by hand. This has always been, and is still the ethos of the family run business.
“My father started to make small pots for herbs and other plants, but the planters grew [in size] over the years, especially when he started to work directly with designers and architects,” shares Dries Janssens, a second-generation owner of the company on how it all began. Originally a planter of Laurel trees, his father Willy started making these pots, starting with square shapes (Vierkant means ‘square’ in Flemish) after failed attempts to find pots with modern designs to match the architecture of his contemporary home. Then, the market only offered old-fashioned, Tuscan-styled variations in terracotta.
Reining in his wife Annette, a fine art teacher, to work on the designs, he established Atelier Vierkant in 1922. He sourced for robust German clay that could be fired at high temperatures to make strong, frost-proof vessels, and used natural oxides to create the distinct natural colours. Later on, his three sons joined the family business, which has now grown to contain a showroom in San Francisco, and an international clientele of which most are architects, landscape and interior designers attracted by their “ natural look, strength, quality and modern design” says Dries.
Dries is in charge of sales as well as connecting this clientele with the in-house team, which is led by his mother. While there is a catalogue of ready made designs, it is the possibility of creating bespoke designs that is a strong selling point. Once the specific shape and function of the required products are determined, it is on to Annette to work on the design. “My mother works from a small prototype in clay or plaster. She models and modifies it until it is perfect. From there, it is scanned by a computer and brought to scale in polystyrene from where we make the mould in plaster. Once this is done, the real production of the pot, pebble or any other shape in clay [is done by the artisans in the factory],” describes Dries on the process.
Aside from conventionally shaped vases, Atelier Vierkant’s catalogue has grown to contain clay containers for the table top as well as public seating. One of the most popular products, the oversized K-series pebbles, is a recent design – not surprising considering the playful character they exude while functioning as public seating. Outdoor furniture integrated with LED lighting and timber accents also add variety to the ever-expanding collection.
Come March 2015, some of these products will be showcased at the second edition of Maison & Objet Asia in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands where Atelier Vierkant will have a booth. It’s a chance for attendees to feel for themselves the unique texture of the products and hear from the Janssens brothers in the flesh about the craft in the making of these products. As Dries emphasises, “Each pot tells a different story as they are fully handmade. The finish, character, texture and structure of the pot depends on the creativity and hands of our craftsmen; they even mark the pot insides with a small logo, [as if to say] ‘I’m proud to have made this vase’.”