Reviving the Desert - Meet the Winners from Western Europe Daylight Investigations

Regional winners: (from left) Brice Lemaire, Xiaolan Vandendries and Julien Obedia


“I was hiking in France when I received a phone call from the award manager from the VELUX Group [Per Arnold Andersen]. At first, I didn’t pick up because it was not a number that I recognized,” Brice Lemaire, one of three members of the regional winners from Western Europe in the Daylight Investigations category, explains.

“He called several times. I finally picked up, and first I thought it was a seller or a wrong number, because the he was speaking in English. I didn’t understand that it was from VELUX. A bit later a received a call from Sabine Pauquay from VELUX Belgium, who told me in French that we had won the International VELUX Award,” he says laughing.

“It wasn’t until then I realized that we had won. I called my friends and they didn’t believe it at first either.”


Daylight, Shade and Water

Brice and team mates Xiaolan Vandendries and Julien Obedia were selected by the jury of internationally renowned architects as the regional winners based on their project “Cover to Reveal”.

Their project challenges, questions and raises awareness of the phenomenon of desertification, which affects 25% of the global land area. The students propose creating a new monumentality as a landmark in the territory, where the soils and ecosystems are regenerated by setting up a water cycle based on atmospheric water.

The goal of the project is to regenerate the soil with a special mesh or net that collects moisture from fog, dew and rain.


A mesh acts as a filter or a veil, designed to create a light and shadow scenography that evolves during the day. Thus, threatened and usually neglected spaces can become places with remarkable spatial, poetic and luminous qualities where people can gather.

The project looks specifically at the region of Almeria in Spain, which is experiencing the effects of desertification.

“Even if it is in Spain, and not Belgium, we have all been there and we took note of this phenomenon. We had this in mind and we knew that we needed a place with a lot of heat and sun. With the problem of desertification, this was a way to combine all the elements of the idea we had,” explains Julien

“We also chose this region because we discovered that it is one of the most affected regions in Europe,” adds Brice.

“We researched this region and discovered a very interesting aspect, which is the proliferation of plastic green houses. It is a huge area of thousands of greenhouses. The area is also very close to the national park. So, we thought that this would be an interesting area to preserve with the contrast of the national park and the greenhouses.”


Sharing feelings with daylight

In the report from the jury meeting, it is noted that “they applauded a really good investigation that is very thoroughly researched and well presented”.

“We started this project a long time ago - almost six months before the deadline. So, it has been a long process,” says Julien.

“We have done a lot of research for this idea, on desertification, of the specific site in Almeria in Spain, the testimony, the impact. We did research on what the existing solutions were and if we could possibly use them in a different way and use the light as a solution,” says Brice and adds that the daylight in their project also has an emotional aspect.

The associated helium balloons create spectacular and shaded places.


“For us, daylight is a very important aspect and way to share feelings and the specific luminous atmosphere that affects the human being. It matters specifically for the humans that will enjoy the spaces or buildings. The important spiritual impact that you can feel when you are in a space with well-developed daylight.”


The importance of keeping faith

The International VELUX Award recognises the work that teachers play in supporting students of architecture in their work. The teachers supporting the winning teams are therefore also awarded. The trio also recognises the support they have received from their professor.

“First, we tried different mediums of representation and we showed them to him and we advanced little by little,” says Julien about working with their professor Gérald Ledent.

“Then it became more and more precise. We really took it as a chance for us to experiment with different mediums.”

“It was important to have our professor with us, because it was good motivation and he provided a specific eye on our work. This is our first contest, so he could also tell us about how it works and what is important and the importance of keeping faith.“


Competing for the grand prize

In the end of November, the trio will meet the eight other student teams at the World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam to present their projects to the jury and compete for the global winner title.

“We don’t know exactly what to expect. But we are very happy to be part of this event and the chance to meet interesting architects from the jury and from the festival in general,” says Julien.

“We will be aware about all that will be happening and that we can take part in. Maybe we will be a bit stressed. But we will be very happy to be there.”

Discover “Cover to Reveal” and all the other regional winner projects here and follow the International VELUX Award on Facebook and Instagram to find out what the students get up to in Amsterdam during the World Architecture Festival.