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Towards a contextual approach of business development – Interview with Coen van den Wijngaart

On 6 June this year, Coen van den Wijngaart joined the archipelago Group as Acquisition and Business Development Manager. We are delighted to welcome him to our team. Although he is new on board, his face is already quite familiar. His background as an architect in the Netherlands and Belgium has given him the opportunity to work with many of us in the past already.
Especially starting during a COVID-19 time is a great challenge and demands a flexibility to get to know your colleagues. After his first month, we asked Coen a few questions to get to know him better:

Map Bruxelles Leuven

From The Netherlands to Brussels… Why did you choose to live in the Belgian capital?

In 2013, I decided to move with my family from the Netherlands to Belgium in order to escape from the financial and real estate crisis that hit The Netherlands harder than Belgium because of its conjuncture sensitive economic model. We chose to live in Brussels because it is both a city with metropolitan qualities and a city for people who have not found a place yet. Brussels is not only the capital city of Belgium, but also of Europe.

Brussels is a city with hidden treasures, heterotopian qualities and secret places. Urbanisation occurred through densification of its original rural structure of the 19 municipalities and the green leftovers of the “Foret de Soignes”. We should move towards an inclusive and sustainable urbanism derived from contextual thinking to provide social integration, mixed-use & biodiverse environments with positive ecological footprints and activate local economies. Maybe COVID-19 is a wake-up call, not only to rediscover our microclimate bubble around us, but also to reflect our behaviour towards nature itself?

You and archipelago… how did the story between you and the group start?

I started my career in the late 90’s after I finished my internship for the Higher Technical College in Tilburg. During my studies at the Technical University in Delft and my Erasmus period in Montpelier at the Grande École d´Architecture, I studied and worked at the same time.

After my graduation in Delft, I worked for several kind of architectural firms: from strong conceptual to strong service offices. I know archipelago already for some time as they were the local partner for a previous office I worked for in Rotterdam, whereby we mainly worked together on healthcare projects.

As I have a strong driven entrepreneurship for architecture and urbanism, I merely worked for project development-oriented architectural firms, consultants or real estate developers. My role in archipelago is to manage and coordinate the acquisitions and business development.

In order to create more added value, we want to develop our business and expand our network through a contextual approach, which is in line with archipelago’s values and identity. In parallel with the new collaborative governance implemented within the Group and the challenges of the New World Of Working, we are rethinking our approach with the aim of (re)positioning ourselves. With a Belgian and international experience, I am also pursuing the mission to establish new connections with professional and academic network actors in and outside the country. Building partnerships with new qualified talents is also part of this exciting journey!

Architecture & business development… how do you combine both fields?

For me it is important not to think about architecture as a solitary esthetical product or intervention. We should approach architecture as holistically and contextually driven. Therefore, we aim to understand not only our clients, end-users and stakeholders, both public and private, as well as the specific context of each project as good as possible.

For example, an institutional investor has other concerns than a certain end user or a project developer. When we understand the needs of our clients and how their ‘value-chain’ works and is integrated, we are able to deliver a more optimised and bespoke architectural solution.

Craftmanship is an important aspect to combine architecture with entrepreneurship. Terms as marketing and business are sensitive within the architectural discourse. However, when you act economically you automatically become an entrepreneur otherwise you won’t survive.

Moreover, as many architects love to remain academic, in a certain sense, ‘business development’ takes an important part in our story too. It is a more inclusive term to use because ‘development’ is progressive and covers not only the commercial aspects of running a business, but it also includes creating added value, research & innovation, the identity of the organization, social responsibility, attracting skilled collaborators and partners, sharing knowledge, etc.

Running an architectural office is different from running a product factory: managing the creative process or the management of creativity cannot be measured exactly to the milligram. Nevertheless, it is important to create enough space for inspiration within a certain timing and consolidated budgets. Therefore, co-productive terms as co-creation, participation and dialogue are very important to be creative and manage creativity. I always like to use the term: sharing = multiplying. This means strategically choosing the right teams, partnerships & networks to work with. However, it also implies an entrepreneurship in which every individual collaborator of archipelago has the opportunity to evolve and is able to excel in his or her talents. Only by these means and ambitions can we achieve the necessary quality and innovation in order to evolve and to stay relevant.


Architecture and R&I… do you have a favourite project?

I do not have one favourite architectural project because there are too many to mention. I rather prefer to think from an urban development perspective. You can have a nice piece of architecture, but each individual building is part of an urban tissue. It does not only concern its individual activity, but also how it functions within the sum of individuals, within the right spatial, ecological and social conditions of a neighbourhood, quarter or city.

Nevertheless, I like to mention the Dutch architect Thomas Rau. He opens up a new discourse and a new understanding of how we need to organise the process of development, design and construction of real estate differently and in a more sustainable way, thinking circular, by producing energy, introducing concepts of renting building materials, and so on.

Furthermore, the world is changing, clients are changing, and we are changing! Research & Innovation will help us to stay proactive and deliver the quality that our clients expect from us. It also opens doors to alliances with the academic world, industry and knowledge networks. Only few offices have the ability or capacity to invest into a R&I cell and archipelago is lucky to have this opportunity. R&I plays an important role in our social responsibility and credibility as architects. It is part of our identity and the values we stand for. R&I is about the content to deepen out our four pillars of programming, experience, sustainability and economy in order to create crossover pollination over our design ateliers and sectors.

When we are innovative, we are able to create added value by delivering scenario based & society integrated concepts which pay attention to ecological responsibility and creating sustainable habitats to live, care, learn, work and in.

What is your current state of mind?

I have always liked to connect people, build up partnerships based on knowledge and values, and develop the right strategy to succeed in qualitative habitats, buildings and researches, social inclusivity and contextual thinking. Somehow, it feels right to start between the COVID-19 lockdown and the summer holidays.

Because, as everyone is repositioning themselves in these challenging times, I like to take advantage of this period: getting familiar with the archipelago team and getting a better picture of the future challenges regarding acquisition, prospection, business development and marketing.

Even on a personal level, the COVID-19 lock-down period has given me the opportunity to discover the microenvironment around me: lots of walking and cycling through the Brussels Natura 2000 green belt. The summer break gives me the possibility to enjoy even more quality time with my family and to catch up reading some books starting by “The Craftsman” by Richard Sennett and “A Sociology of Globalisation” by Saskia Sassen.

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