paul koenen

The contacts that designers have because of Designday regularly lead to new assignments. We capture this in a new series: Designday stories. Part 2: artist Paul Koenen.

According to his own words, Paul Koenen (1967) has an almost morbid tendency to look back, to search for lost times, and to capture what has been. He even prefers to shoot time ahead with a time machine to see how things are aging faster. His narrative seating modules from construction debris called ‘The Memory of Maastricht’ are such a vehicle to preserve something from the past.

Koenen has been doing well since he won the Design Award 2017 ‘Made for Maastricht’. He has already sold five robust and poetic city benches of crushed buildings or mineral granulate. Two modules to IBA-Parkstad and two to the Municipality of Kerkrade. And close to the Eiffel building, the municipality of Maastricht has, together with the Student Hotel, purchased a set of three square and rectangular modules that will soon be placed behind the Student Hotel. With its urban furniture of collected construction debris, Koenen has brought together the literal remains in unique seating modules as a tribute to the buildings that once stood there and the people who lived inside them. He has cast the memory into stone, literally giving it a second life, as eternal memories in the landscape.

Koenen, who grew up above the mines of the Willem Sophia in Europe’s oldest coal town Kerkrade, refers to his youth in his works. He has a goal: ‘Scatter the benches where residents, passers-by and tourists can sit on all over town. The city banks communicate with each other; you could book a tour along all the copies’, he hopes. And even better, he wants to place his Minestone benches on the common carboon basin that runs through Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, creating an international network.

Grounded bunker
To realize its objects, Koenen lobbies proactively. So he makes a reservation for a few cubic metres of grounded bunker’ at the Tapijnkazerne, because he knows that the old nuclear bunker will be demolished. In this way he collects his material with some ease. After all, Maastricht is undergoing the biggest change in the last hundred years. Industrial complexes are being demolished, post-war districts renovated, and the Koning-Willem Alexander tunnel is constructed. For the public space in those new neighborhoods that arise, Koenen wants to design more seating elements that tell something about the history of the place. After winning the prize, the assignment of the board of the Elisabeth Strouven Fund, seemed a bit more difficult. The fund is located in the buildings that arose directly from the work of the 17th century devoted and secular Elisabeth to help sick and poor people. They wanted a bank in the front garden of their villa. Koenen: “But there was no construction debris. In order to stay as close as possible to Elisabeth, I read her diary, wandered around and entered the worn stone steps that all those people have ever walked upon. ‘All this inspired me to create a bench that will be presented next spring,’ says Koenen. Meanwhile the artist hopes to create new autonomous work in his new, larger studio in the Belgian city of Tongeren. ‘Like a decor, photography or a sculpture’, says the widely interested artist.

Material that was once brought up by miners themselves forms a red mine-stone granulate. Cycle paths and gravel courts are being made of it, but Koenen finds a more aesthetic application in his Minestone bench of polished mine-stone and terrazzo.