One does not typically associate minimalism with designs for the other 99 percent. It is a style, as Thomas de Monchaux wrote a few weekends ago in the Times, that "conjures a life of such intangible ease that the mere creature comforts of visibly abundant stuff are transcended." Or, as Rem Koolhaas put it rather succinctly in last year's Cronocaos exhibition, "Minimalism remains the preferred mode of conspicuous consumption." When a project that is not of the luxury variety is described as "Minimalist," it is typically code meaning cheap, shoddy, and lacking in creativity.
All of which makes the recently opened Antwerp Central Youth Hostel especially rare and admirable. The design is by the local architect Vincent van Duysen, and was supervised by his very capable project director, Kristof Geldmeyer. To simply call it austere is to not do it justice. The facade, with its rhythmic pattern of vertical windows, is proportionally related to its neighbors, and is clad not with concrete (as it may appear in photographs), but familiar Belgian bluestone, an expense the architects justified not only on aesthetic grounds, but for its sustainability. (It will last forever, and requires minimal care.) Most of the windows are deeply inset, to accentuate the building's mass, though large picture windows that shield public spaces are pushed up against the facade. In the evening,
video works by the artist Michel Francois are projected onto these large glass panels, turning them into screens.
Public spaces have a sleek, Death Star vibe to them—but in a good way—with walls and ceilings painted matte black. The living spaces are above, along double-file corridors in a neutral off white. The rooms themselves are well-planned with customized furnishings, and therefore relatively spacious, if ascetic. A couple can take a double room with a private bath, sheets, and breakfast for a combined 53.60 euros. A single night in a dorm-style room is 22.80. Included is Internet usage and bike storage. There's also a bar (but you'll have to buy your own drinks—I recommend a Bolleke).
The success of the project is attributable to numerous factors, but none more important than the evident care taken by the architects, who typically work on the very high end, that the precision of their design was carried through to the end, and not value-engineered into oblivion. It's a credit to them, and blessing for those who would like to experience one of Europe's design capitals
on a tight budget. Whether it is the most beautiful hostel in the world is surely debatable, but there is no doubt it is special. (Feel free to paste alternative favorites in the comments.) A slideshow follows.