Fringes, an illustration series by Thomas Willemse

Urban fringes are unknown territories, places without clear and distinctive references. They form large homogeneous and continuous carpets of almost identical houses within a sharp geometric pattern. The pattern of these carpets doesn’t necessarily reflect the dynamism of the daily life of its inhabitants, but rather the much slower pace of urban transformation.

Inspired by his own experience living in the limits of different and unrelated urban latitudes, Belgian architect and illustrator Thomas Willemse recreates his memories of formal patterns through the ongoing illustration series Fringes. His own perception of the urban form is expressed in a consistent graphic language of pure lines and clean geometric abstraction. Despite its geographical, historical and cultural differences, Fringes positions three contrasting places under the same “dissecting table”, a homogeneous graphic language that makes possible a transversal comparison between them, putting in evidence the formal similitudes of urban fringes as a contemporary urban condition.

In the labyrinthine geometry of the residential fringe it is easy to get lost between the repetitions of rows of houses: the triangular building blocks of Schaarbeek in Brussels with its focal point on a multitude of roundabouts; the fishbone-shaped streets of Taihu between the 6th and 7th ring road of Beijing; and the identical rectangular blocks of Bushwick in Brooklyn.

Each city is a product of its culture. Brussels as a crossroad in the centre of Europe is a city that was influenced by many visions and has many different parts. Taihu reflects many of the old feng-shui principles. Bushwick is an imprint of the Manhattan commissioners plan. The elements composing each drawing define the built shell that people inhabit and reflect the way in which people live.



“Within the Brussels Region, Schaarbeek is a bit of a world on its own, in parts composed of triangles and circles lined with multi story houses with on one side rooms and on the other the staircase and all auxiliary functions”


“Taihu, a fishbone structure oriented towards the water, with closed Siheyuan houses. The villages in the distance are razed by bulldozers in the looming shadows of the towers from the CBD in the centre”


“Bushwick’s wooden brownstone typology houses with stoops have many gaps since successive waves of building booms and abandonment scarred the tissue”

“Blurring architecture unfolds in a place where the two different types of spaces interact. It is a homogeneous place whose aim is to further increase the uniformity and transparency (…) In the extreme this space leads into the void, and can even make people disappear. The homogeneous grid becomes distorted” (Toyo Ito “Blurring Architecture”, 1999)

(Text: Thomas Willemse, Sedaile Mejias and Diego Luna Quintanilla // illustrations: Thomas Willemse)