The Black Drawings of Marie-José Van Hee

Helen Thomas


When they are confronted with the beginnings of a project, architects start the complex mining of their imaginations from different approaches, each one entirely personal. Their way of being and thinking, encapsulated in how they absorb and sort a million things at once, is not necessarily expressed in the final building. Messy beginnings can produce something quite pristine.

Marie-José Van Hee, Black Drawing for Zuidzande House, Netherlands, 2007. © Marie-José Van Hee.

‘When I begin to think about a project I am always drawing,’ says Flemish architect Marie-José Van Hee. ‘I try to make the environment – first I draw the contour or the plans of the house, to decide what is interesting to keep. All the time that I am drawing many pictures, many images are coming into my mind very fast, too fast sometimes it feels like a chaos. The drawing is a way of making sense of this whirlwind, it can be completely black by the end if the ideas don’t come out.’

Marie-José Van Hee, The plan of the house moves towards its final form, the essential elements remain in place – the fireplace, the table, the tower: Design sketch for Zuidzande House, Netherlands, 2007. © Marie-José Van Hee.

While the design for a building is evolving, private thoughts can be generously shared and transformed, or jealously guarded and maintained. ‘When I make a drawing then all plans are on top of each other, and sometimes it’s difficult for people in the office to understand. Explaining to them shows what is sure or not, and sometimes they say to me, “José, you need to work some more.”’

Marie-José Van Hee, Design development drawing for Zuidzande House, Netherlands, 2007. © Marie-José Van Hee.

‘Then I start new. I use a rubber – it helps to open out the drawing, to make light in it. I am tracing lines, and suddenly there’s a very strong line and that’s the one. It comes out intuitively by drawing, by concentrating on it through drawing. That can’t happen just by thinking.’

Architecture Today Two houses in Opwijk and Zuidzande, by David Grandorge