An Interview with Belgian Architect Mathieu Luyens, Co-Founder of JUMA architects
Photography by Annick Vernimmen
JUMA architects is a Gent based architecture firm founded by Mathieu Luyens & Julie van De Keere in 2009 with a focus on creating well-crafted and custom made structures. Their aesthetics are modern and minimal with careful usage of light, space, emotion and the unique characteristics of each location. It is their mission to efficiently deliver a project from the first planning stages through to the fine detailing of materials and furniture design. Their specific approach allows them to be passionate designers and functional builders while creating a cost effective and personal structure for their clients.
What sparked your interest in architecture and interior design?
I’ve always loved to draw floor plans when I was little and when I needed to choose a university, the obvious decision was to become an architect. My mother also had an influence on me, she always had good taste concerning interior design and throughout the years she collected vintage design pieces.
How did you begin your career as an architect/designer?
In Belgium, you need to do 2 years of practice after you’ve studied for 5 years at the university. I did my practice in Ibiza where I was fortunate to work on big holiday homes. Afterwards, I worked for Glenn Sestig Architects, who specialised in high-end interior design. Julie worked for Conix architects in Antwerp and afterwards for a few smaller offices that worked on residential villas. So for our practice, we had a very wide and interesting journey. After those 2 years of practice, we decided not to lose time and started JUMA architects right away.
Of course, we also had to start with small projects which meant lots of hours for not much money but I guess that’s a conditio sine qua non when you don’t have parents with an architectural office.
Later on, we ended up with some stressful periods and even considered stopping our office. However, in these times something changed in our strategy. We decided to only accept projects that meet certain criteria and that seemed to be the solution. We now accept only a few projects a year but the projects we accept are the good ones.
How would you best describe your design principles and philosophy ?
One of the criteria is that we only want to do projects that include architecture as well as interior design. So this defines us.
People often ask if Julie and I have our specific projects or tasks but when we make a design, we always design it together. As long as Julie or I isn’t satisfied, the design isn’t ready.
Signature materials: We always try to combine very smooth/clean materials (for example, normal plaster walls) with very rough materials (natural stone, concrete). All projects include natural stone.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding part of the job?
I guess the challenge is to connect with your client and convince them of your ideas but also the opposite way. The input of the client can be very useful and make the project unique.
The most rewarding is of course the finished project!
What does a typical day as an architect look like for you?
Coffee is definitely the start of the day. Thankfully, we don’t need to sit all day on our desk. We are able to go outside and do an inspection of the construction site. Depending on the project, this could be outside in the rain or sun, or with a more finished project this would be inside with a lot of contractors asking you questions.
What is a common client misconception?
They don’t know how many hours we spend working on their project. When we tell them, they almost never believe it.
What are some things you’ve learned throughout the years as an architect?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. (still working on that)
What advice would you give to young architects and designers?
When I imagined my career as an architect, I thought I was supposed to work at another office for at least 10 years. Only then I would be experienced enough to start my own office.
The reality was that we started our office just after our obligatory practice time of 2 years. We didn’t want to wait that long and after all, we think that you get the most experience by working on your own projects, which means making your own mistakes.
Also, when you’re young, you’re in a better position to make sacrifices. You can work long hours, take small projects, and don’t make much money. 10 years later when you already have kids, you have a higher living standard and it’ll be much harder to make those kinds of sacrifices.
The future of JUMA architects
We’re still doing JUMA because we love to design, we love to create and we love beautiful things and spaces. We hope to continue our work and grow to make more prestigious projects. Our objective is to make world-class, custom private houses.
Best places or works you’ve seen or visited?
We love to travel but we actually don’t like city trips that much so we don’t organise trips with lots of architecture. We prefer nature and also get inspired by old and ancient architecture.
Favourite ways to get creative juices flowing?