A Candy-Colored Arts Center That Doubles As A Work Of Op-Art

From one direction, the Academie MWD looks as colorful as a pack of Starburst. From another, you might not even notice it’s there.

The Academie MWD, an arts center in Dilbeek, Brussels, is situated at a crossroads that’s uniquely varied. To the south is the city’s main square, with restaurants and shops. To the north is the Wolfsputten, a protected forest. West of the building is the CC Westrand, a Brutalist concert hall, and to the east lay a series of quaint suburban homes. In designing the facility, architect Carlos Arroyo had a distinct challenge: Erecting a building that made sense from all four directions.


The first trick Arroyo employed is one of scale: The jagged edge of the roof on the building’s east side mimics those of the homes beside it, growing like a bullish stock chart to the cantilevered auditorium at the structure’s other end, a better structural match to the Westrand located across the street.

But even more tricky, however, is the building’s facade, a series of vertical ridges that give the structure a totally different appearance depending on which way you approach it. From the broad side, it appears as a collection of colorful bands of color–oranges, yellows, greens, and reds. Walking toward the CC Westrand with a shoulder tight to the building’s wall, however, those same bands are rendered in blues and whites, a nod to a painting by the architect of the Westrand, Alfons Hoppenbrouwers. But coming from the other direction–toward the Wolfsputten–visitors get the most remarkable view of the building, one that actually isn’t much of a view at all. Thanks to an image of the forest, printed on the metal slats which run from the building’s base to its roof, the whole thing disappears.

It’s a clever concept with stunning execution–an optical illusion on an impressive scale. But the vertical slats are environmentally clever, too. The thin windows are designed to let just the right amount of sunlight through, cutting electricity costs, and the fins on the southeast facade are mirrored, bouncing in even more light.

Inside, the facility houses an auditorium for performances as well as a number of private classrooms (all of which are painted white, maximizing the reflection of the natural light). I just hope the parents of Dilbeek explain what their kids should be looking for very carefully before they send them walking to their lessons.

See more of Arroyo’s work on his site.
[Hat tip: Designboom; Images copyright Miguel de Guzman]