MDMA  l Martine De Maeseneer Architects exists this year 35 years. Their first public building, the Bronks Youth Theatre, situated in the center of Brussels, was awarded in 2011 as the first ever Belgian finalist in the European Mies van der Rowe Award for Contemporary Architecture. 
So far their journey followed a limited edition of realisations of private houses, office buildings, social housing, all of them extensively published.

Martine De Maeseneer Architects is not a compulsive builder. The practice mediates between ‘theorisation’ and ‘realisation’. How can we build in ‘differance’ (with an ‘a’) in our practice as a self-regulating machine ? It is a question about quantity (also), but then of a different order.
In order to reach this, we started looking for a medium that isn’t preoccupied with form, image and Gestalt.
As our motto we state that ‘context’ alone is not enough, that projects should at the least look conceptual, that they should be imbedded in text.
What manifested itself in the beginning as very spontaneous side remarks/doodles, we gradually deepened and extended toward an autonomous operating language. Within our practice we continuously search for a broader field of ‘patterns’, ‘motives’, ‘logos’, ‘plots’ and ‘timbres’. — Words with an architectural resonance - which are an expression of a social, cultural an political involvement and expertise at large. This kind of (in)directness works.

Since 2000 MDMA participated in about 50 architectural competitions launched in Belgium and abroad, and has been working inbetween on an architectural theory. MDMA is the author of two small books – The In-di-visible Space (Antwerp 1993) and Ideality-3-Lost (Brussels 1997) and has published about 10 essays in an international forum of books and magazines. 

In the 1990’s two books have appeared from our hand. Since, they found their way to a number of university libraries worldwide which became visible on the digital platform worldcat.org.
While counting I imagine that the line-up is still incomplete. Not all universities have digitalised  their file or made it available (Europe is notoriously absent). The platform’s algorithm has still to learn to read over and across the different input of titles, independent of various punctuations, by the libraries in question. ‘Ideality-3-lost’ ‘Ideality ,3, lost’ ‘Ideality 3 lost’ is one given of course. Below, I have enlisted our work more clearly, being in all thankful to worldcat.org to enable people to keep track of what remained before secluded.
Alongside we have contributed a series of essays to architectural magazines and books which either became distributed over a far more vast array of libraries or remained off record. The Architect Reconstructing Her Practice (Francesca Hughes, MIT 1996) is spread over 358 libraries for instance. Another book, Hunch 6-7 (Jennifer Sigler, the Berlage 2003), titled as 109 Provisional Attempts To Address Six Simple And Hard Questions… belongs to the curriculum of one university in particular that, as a consequence, is not picked up by the competition. But free download for all!

                                                                              The In-di-visible Space (1993)         Ideality-3-Lost (1997)

Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool Antwerpen                           I                                              I

Art Institute Chicago                                                         I

Canadian Centre for Architecture Montreal                      I                                             I

Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine Paris                    I                                             I

Columbia University in the City of New York                                                                  I

Cornell University Library                                                                                                I

Danish Union Catalogue 
and Danish National Library                                                                                            I

Delft University of Technology Library                             I                                               I                                     

Eindhoven University of Technology                                                                                I

Fontys Eindhoven                                                            I                                               I

Hasselt University                                                            I                                               I 

Harvard University                                                           I                                               I

Hathitrust Digital Library and Harbor, USA                                                                      I

Institute Nationale de l’ Art Collections                                                                           I
 Jacques Doucet Paris

Mc Gill University Library Montreal                                                                                 I

Mississippi State University                                                                                            I

New York Public Library System                                     I

National Museum of Women in the Arts
 Washington                                                                    I

Pennsylvania State University  Libraries                                                                        I

Princeton University Library                                            I

Queen’s University Documents Library 
Kingston Canada                                                                                                           I

School of the Art Institute of Chicago                                                                            I

Syracuse University USA                                                                                               I

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 
Preussischen Kultur Besitz 
Kunstbibliothek Berlin Lubbock                                                                                     I

Technische Informations Bibliothek / 
Leibniz Information Zentrum Technik und 
Natur Wissenschaften und 
Universitätsbibliothek Hannover                                                                                    I

Texas Tech University Libraries                                                                                      I

The Chinese University of Hong Kong                                                                           I

UC Berkely Libraries                                                      I                                               I

Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya 
Barcalona                                                                       I

Université Laval, Bibliothèque Québec, 
Canada                                                                                                                          I

Université du Québec à Montreal                                                                                  I

University of Antwerp                                                                                                    I

University of California NRLF Richmond                       I                                              I 

University of California Santa Barbara                          I

University of Cincinnati - Main Campus                        I

University del Pais Vasco / 
Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea  Basque Country 
Spain                                                                                                                            I

University of Illinois of Urbana Champaign                  I

University of Michigan                                                                                                  I

University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries                  I

University of Southern California Los Angeles            I

University of Technology Sydney                                                                                 I

University of Texas Libraries                                        I

University of Utah Salt Lake City                                                                                  I

Virginia Commonwealth University                              I

Vlaams Architectuur Instituut VAI Antwerpen              I                                                I

Woodbury University Library, Los Angeles                                                                   I

General background

In the 1970’s, 1980’s we as students were confronted with an increasing changing narrative. From post-modernism, structuralism, neo-classicism, rationalism, high-tech. The era was rich in style; describe it as a certain thickness as M. Foucault would, that was to follow the postwar crisis in modernism.
These styles were nonetheless ideologically coloured by what earlier on was forwarded or existed in literature. So, a way of putting it is that, all these vibrant styles that mark the 20th century rolled over once more while pushing the virtual boundary of the millennium. In the 70’s- 80’s it appeared that everything had to pass the revue in architecture out of sheer necessity. 
Yet unforeseeably sooner (or not quite) in 1989 the Berlin Wall came down that created an unexpected openness, a lightheartedness, optimism amongst the lot of our generation.
It is in this 10 year gap or void, where everything could be rewritten, readdressed or processed where The In-di-visible Space and Ideality-3-Lost found traction.

London calling

The In-di-visible Space is more closely related to courses I followed at the master unit of The Bartlett UC London. Key factor there was the topological distribution of bodies (cells as Hillier named them, but quite so houses in effect) in space. Space Syntax (B. Hillier et al) brought a digital revolution forward in the manner of approach to architecture. Space can be deep or shallow, space carries a social order, one has to cross psychological boundaries to go from here to there. The Complex Building Course (J. Peponis) matched the new brief with the philosophical insights of Foucault which are in themselves built around parsing sentences, structuralism.
For me to translate as ‘seeing versus knowing’ as a broadening up of ‘form follows function’, given the modernist mantra of the 1920’s.

The American connection

The introductory text to The In-di-visible Space (1993) titles Real-Abstract and is written by Bob Somol one year ahead of the release of Pulp-Fiction (1994). It highlights the same fast montage of an eclectic field of forms as you will find with sequences in the movie by Quentin Tarantino.
The text has pushed our architecture into a more formal branding. Next to Foucault appears now J. Derrida as a source of inspiration.
Ideality-3-Lost (1996) diverts the focus in our projects to a formal rather than spatial language. Up are ‘the cross section’, ‘the hidden in-between door’, or just get the hang of ‘suspension’ and ‘luster’ in making a design.
Derrida comes in where we search for a semantic (rather than syntactic) validation of our work. Names as ‘passe-partout house’ or ‘recto-verso house’ or ‘op-zij houses’ keep to a topological play with architectural items nonetheless, rather than to adhere to typologies known to us for instance through the Rationalism of Aldo Rossi.

A permutative architecture?

Looking back after three decades, what did the writing achieve? 
While it felt as the natural thing to do in the 90’s. Fill the gaps between the design modus.
While the writing began in the margin of the inevitable sketchbook, or reversely doodling away in a manner of being distracted from the written page. It rose, to put it somewhat poetically, to the search for an extra -permutative- level of thought.
While indeed, looking back, there was a conservative tendency going on also that the build work should be immediately recognisable in order to raise a clientèle, to persuade a jury, to be recognised in conjunction with ones contemporaries on the part of form, matter, style. 
But from a feminine point of view, standing in the profession, there was no other choice than take the risk and make room for ones own. Call it a kind of Raumplan in every sense.
So, the critical mass that rose out of our hybrid building, writing, teaching job is exactly that small oeuvre of ‘build projects’ (I will always refer to them as such). Or call it an overture, to what it is inclined to stay. 
Three decades later, three buildings have been picked up thus far on the national heritage list:
System Solutions in 2013, Cabrio house in 2018 by the Flemish community. Recto-verso house in 2021 by the French community in Brussels.
It eases the slight discomfort, where on takes the client on an adventure with their budget, with their dreams, to finally find the effort secured, within their neighbourhood that has been tempted, with something that is found ‘worthwhile’ to endure. 

Cabrio house 
date of design and construction 1988-1992, Meise 
Put on the heritage list Flanders in 2018

Recto-verso house
date of design and construction 1990-1994, Brussels St. Agatha Berchem
Put on the heritage list Brussels in 2021

System Solutions
date of design and construction 1998-2000, Groot-Bijgaarden
Put on the heritage list Flanders in 2013