The architect partnership started off in 1993 with the Dutch architects Folkers and van Buiten. In 1995 the English structural engineer Geoff Wilks enters into association with the agency now called FBW. Though the number of commissions in the Netherlands grows, the agency is chiefly active in Africa.
In 2000 FBW splits. Geoff Wilks becomes director of the FBW Group in Uganda and Manchester, together with Paul Moores and Nigel Tilling. Belinda van Buiten and Antoni Folkers continue in the Netherlands as FBW architects.
From 2014 Antoni Folkers mainly focuses on work in Africa and Belinda van Buiten runs FBW Netherlands.
It is African reality - so different from Western existence - which engenderd FBW’s vision on architecture.
African reality is full of large contrasts and extremely direct. Large contrasts between rich and poor, life and death, but also between people’s harsh condition of life and their positive state of mind. Large contrasts between ‘Village Africa’ and ‘City Africa’ (B.A. in ‘Africa Big Change, Big Chance’). Large contrasts between Africa’s ‘heart of darkness’ and Africa’s hidden treasures.
In Africa quality is in the first place sustainable, well-designed and maintenance-free shelter against the climate. The local circumstances such as limited means and little expertise, scarcity of material and climate all have to be overcome. This demands of the architect great versatility and modesty in solving both design-technical as practical problems. FBW wants to match sobriety with a pleasant and engaging atmosphere. Looking for the essence of the assignment without fringes.
Every new assignment for FBW is unique and incomparable and dictates an approach, which is looking for the ultimate answer, looking for a lasting solution. Design in search of ‘what the building wants to be’, as Louis Kahn states in his writings on the essence of architecture.
A building is a possibility, is docile, preferably silent, quiet, is prepared, makes room, mediates, and is fit for purpose. Good buildings hide their daily use, they are determined and stubborn and (with Kant) are efficient without target (bOb van Reeth).
It is this kind of buildings that FBW wants to make, buildings that people care for and thus are durable and lasting.
After returning to the Netherlands FBW receives the type of consignments which it aspires to and which fit the profile of the agency. In the early nineties the African experience draws the attention of the Dutch Government Building Department. This results in the first renovation and extension consignments for the Child Welfare Council. The highly old-fashioned offices are transformed into a modern, cheerful and transparent working environment. With the available means the existing rooms are provided with as much light and spaciousness as possible whereby the structure of the existing shell and the characteristic architecture of the original building were the starting point.
From 2000 to the present FBW has realised several visitor centres in nature reserves. Integrated and sustainable design of landscape and building are the guiding principles here. For the South Holland Landscape Trust a new visitor centre is created by a tranquil dune lake as if it were a guest in the landscape.
For Natuurmonumenten (cf. National Trust) several research assignments have been done and by now FBW has worked out two centres. The existing visitors centre Veluwezoom is stripped and transformed into a multifunctional centre with room for information, a restaurant, bicycle hire, Tourist Office and office spaces. In spite of the inevitable increase in scale the building is unobtrusive. The materials also join in. Light wood constructions and lots of glass take away any heaviness. The centre is meant as a combination of different masses without becoming an eyesore.
With the design for a new visitors centre in the woods near Oisterwijk FBW, together with Natuurmonumenten, develops a new typology. Until recently functionality determined the interior of their visitor centres, so the restaurant was in a different space than the one with the exposition. Now the intention is to combine these functions to become entirely integrated. You can drink a cup of coffee right in the middle of accessible and attractively presented information. The original forest restaurant Groot Speijck (a well known place in Brabant) is stripped inside and out of any insignificant extensions and new volumes are added to the old shell.
FBW has found a number of commissioners which are in agreement with their basic principles and approach of sustainable building, a sound analysis of wishes and programme, smart not-standard solutions, knowledge of materials and great sensitivity for the existing context. The agency particularly prefers consignments of a social-cultural nature, and consignments in the health care. This last category has a direct link with hospitals realised in Africa.
Larger projects come into view with the realisation of a town palace for street people in the centre of Apeldoorn. Omnizorg is a 24-hour provision for about 100 homeless people, addicts and people with a psychiatric disorder. All large cities are familiar with the problem of (addicted) psychiatric patients who roam the streets. The city of Apeldoorn has decided to tackle this problem in an unconventional way.
Omnizorg is a temporary refuge, not a permanent shelter. The intention is to help the people who seek support there onwards with getting a job, a home, and a life.
FBW has made it into a building with an open heart, relatively closed on the outside but open on the inside with a public atrium around which is broad galleries. The building has two façades, which are linked by a public passage around which there are publicly accessible working spaces. The closed exterior above the transparent plinth was made for the protection of the privacy of both inhabitants and the surrounding fellow citizens. The colourful expressive shutters soften the façade.
FBW feels at home with projects with an emphasis on social interest. Here FBW is pro active in such a way that, if necessary, a potentially interesting and relevant consignment is created. This aspect of FBW also has its roots in Africa, where in the difficult eighties of the last century FBW was able to develop conditions for existence by initiating projects.
In the Netherlands this approach led to the rescue and restoration of the Jongerius property in Utrecht.
In 2004 the search for a new office space for FBW results the discovery of a Sleeping Beauty Palace in the middle of Utrecht. The exotic but rundown and overgrown villa has an immediate appeal, also because of the roof overhang, which has a tropical touch. The warmth of Africa can also be found in Utrecht.
Research brings to light that only the villa is a listed monument, the adjacent office and the garden linking them are threatened to be demolished. The triad of villa – office – garden is in danger.
Fascination for the villa leads to contact with the family and together starting the Foundation for the preservation of the Jongerius property in 2006. The Foundation is successful. Already in 2007 the office building is designated as a Municipal Monument and eventually the whole property is labelled as a National Monument.
FBW plays an important part in bringing in various subsidies. The restoration of the villa is realised with subsidies by the City Council of Utrecht as Investment Urban Renovation, the Province of Utrecht (Parelfonds) and the European Union (EFRO Opportunities for West)
FBW was not only responsible for the three-year restoration and for giving the villa a new purpose as a meeting centre, but also for its actual rescue. Together with the enthusiastic and persevering dedication of several of Jan Jongerius’ grandchildren, the villa has regained its former glory.