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Léon Stynen

Antwerp, Belgium
1 of 1Bulo

Léon Stynen (Antwerp, July 15, 1899 - May 13, 1990) was a Belgian architect, urban planner and designe , and active in education as a teacher, director and educational reformer.

Stynen was the son of Leonard Jean-Baptiste Stynen, a sculptor and designer. His father had a big influence on him but never imposed his preference on his son. In 1921, he graduated as an architect at the National Higher Institute in Antwerp. His contemporaries included Victor Bourgeois and Louis Herman De Koninck. In an international context these were Theo van Doesburg, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. During his studies he worked for architect Gerard de Ridder who brought him into contact with the design philosophy of Camillo Sitte and Henry Van de Velde. Politically, he was affiliated with socialists such as Camille Huysmans (1871-1968) whose cabinet assistant he was during his period as prime minister and as mayor of Antwerp.

Stynen's first success was a competition design (1921) for a memorial monument in Knokke. Competition designs and plans for cottages, houses, shopping buildings and apartments followed. It is mainly in the decorative brick architecture that the influences of, among others, the Amsterdam School and Art Deco can be seen. The parental home in Antwerp was his studio until he moved into his own home in the Tentoonstellingswijk, on the current Camille Huysmanslaan, in the early 1930s.


Stynen realized constructions of casinos, rest homes, cinemas, schools and office buildings. In that period, Stynen's focus was mainly on the ideas of new building and modernism, inspired by the work of Le Corbusier. He got to know his work during a visit to Paris in 1925, together with his friend and painter René Guiette, who was friends with Le Corbusier and designed his house. Stynen was particularly interested in Le Corbusier's Pavilion L'Esprit Nouveau. He distanced himself from the work of Berlage and the Amsterdam Schooland immersed himself in the architecture of straight lines and rectangular surfaces. One of the first expressions of this was his design for the Verstrepen residence in Boom in 1927. At the end of the 1920s, he resolutely opted for Modernism. Around 1930 Stynen was a much sought after architect. Among other things, he was commissioned to design pavilions for the 1930 global exhibition in Antwerp.

The 1930 CIAM conference in Brussels emphasized the design of tower buildings and no longer garden cities. Undoubtedly, this increased the impact that Modernism had on him. In a number of residences in Antwerp one can see the evolution of his work from simplified art-deco to extensive functionality and spatial layout. He set himself up as the leading architect for the construction of apartments for the richer middle class of Antwerp. In 1937, Dr. Van Thillo asked him to design a Flemish house for Veltwijcklaan in Ekeren. He came up with a different project that caused a sensation and would take an important place in the firm's portfolio. The walls with small windows with white frames were covered with slates in a complex pattern. The Flemish house no longer exists.

Due to the attention that his work had received for the 1930 World Fair and his contacts with Henry Van de Velde, he was invited to contribute to the design of the Belgian pavilion at the 1939 World Fair in New York, with Henry of the Velde and Victor Bourgeois.

After II World War

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Stynen fled with his family to France. After the war he continued to receive orders to such an extent that architect Paul De Meyer came to strengthen his architectural office. The office employed eight to ten employees. De Meyer was in charge of the office from 1950 to 1964, while Stynen was director of Ter Kameren. The architectural office developed into one of the most important in Belgium and focused on buildings of a large scale with emphasis on the proportions in the facade, and functional floor plans, logically arranged around a central space and so perfect possible execution and finish.

In 1948, he opposed the De Taeye law, which provided subsidies for private housing to compensate for the shortage of homes after the war. Stynen found that the way to the greatest possible mediocrity because people can now do what they want. At the request of Huysmans, then mayor in Antwerp, he was nevertheless prepared to make a design for houses on the Left Bank, a project that was not realized. His precarious financial situation led him to abandon modernism at the request of his clients until 1950 and to create more generally accepted designs, and from then on more explicitly modern.

Social Housing Projects

A new opportunity presented itself when he was allowed to design a new garden city for Wilrijk (not realized) and Kessel-Lo (1950-1960), Casablanca in Kessel-Lo. From the beginning, he strongly advocated a contemporary design. It became a remarkable example of post-war social housing in Belgium with modernist low, medium and high-rise buildings, a square and a building for collective facilities. The Koning-Albert building is inspired by Le Corbusiers Unité d'habitation in Marseille. His most important assignment just after the war was certainly the casinofrom Ostend. He was well prepared since he had already designed a casino for Nellens. As a laureate of the competition, he proposed, among other things, a different location that better responded to mass tourism that was gradually developing. The municipality did not agree with his plans and asked for a rather classic concept. Stynen was not entirely satisfied with what it eventually became: We can perhaps categorize the architecture of the casino under fin de siècle. It can also be seen as proof of conscious professional competence.

Stynen and De Meyer from 1960

The sixties of the 20th century were a period of economic growth and expansion. The Stynen-De Meyer company grew into one of the most important architectural firms in Belgium whose designs, which received prizes, found their way into publications at home and abroad. Stynens fame ensured that his colleagues proclaimed him the first national president of the Order of Architects. An exhibition of his work was organized and in 1973 he received the gold medal from the Belgian architects. The assignments that the company received became more numerous and more diverse. Concrete, especially in the larger structures such as urban office buildings and retail spaces, occupied an increasingly important place.

Antwerp, Belgium
Bostjan, March 8th, 2020