Psychopedagogical Institute
Location: Wasmes, Belgium
Area: 40000 m²
Features: Monolith and precast colored reinforced concrete
Client: Belgium Ministry of Health
Author: Manuel Nunez Yanowsky, Les Atelliers du Grand Hornu
Date and phase: Project and construction 1979-1982

One of the most unusual and brilliant buildings recently built anywhere in the world, the Psychopedagogical Institute in Wasmes, Belgium, is a a school for mentally and physically handicapped children. Rows of open ribbed turrets in brownish-red concrete all but surround the class rooms and play areas evoking the protective architecture of Carcassone or other walled towns. At the main entrance, these turrets give way to an Italianate façade closely patterned after such buildings as the Malatestiano Temple in Rimini (Alberti, 1450)/ Behind this façade, passageway radiated from a spectacular glass-domed space towards the teaching areas. Each passageway is conceived like a city street, with mock facades of typical Belgian structures on each side. At the rear of the school, perhaps the most unusual feature of all, is an open square, again surrounded by false facades. Reference to the theatre décor is obvious here, but the choice of the urban metaphor for the whole is an unexpected and unprecedented… The architect had desired that each false building front be painted in different colors. This might have given the whole a warmer feeling than the untreated concrete visible today, but budgetary constrains have taken precedence over the wishes of Nunez. Aside from reference to the history of fortified towns or even medieval castles which necessarily became self-contained communities in time of siege, the Wasmes school also illustrates another of the favorite ideas of the architect. Here, he confronts elements inspired by northern architecture (the Belgian house facades) and southern buildings (as witnessed by the Italianate entrance façade). This Belgian institute represents another aspect of Nunez’s exploration of architecture as theatre, but he has done more than simply satisfy his own fertile imagination. The interior of the school is an exhilarating place, with its glass domes and surprisingly open plan, situated in a desolate countryside. / Philip E. Jodidio. Works of Manolo Nunez Yanowsky. A+U 8605, p. 117-122.