Architects: V+/Bureau vers plus de bien-être Location: Ternat, Belgium Client: Cortier – De Lat Design Team: Jörn Aram Bihain, Thierry Decuypere, Shin Hagiwara Engineers: Kathleen Mertens Contractor: CPR Construction (main construction), De Meersman (carpentry), FMP (metalwork) Design year: 2001-2003 Construction year: 2003-2005 Surface: 360 sqm Budget: 325.000 euro Photographs: V+, Olivier Chenoix, Patrick Van Roy
The USA counts 31 inhabitants per square kilometer. Belgium is ranked second (excl. microstates) in human population density in Europe with 350 inhabitants per square kilometer, and everybody wants his own piece of land to build on. “A Belgian is born with a brick in his stomach” is a saying often used. So it’s reasonable that the land development and the architecture on it are bound by strategy and certain rules, based on economy, ecology, sociology, urban design, etc.
However, since Belgium is divided in several governments, determined by language (dutch, french and german) and jurisdiction, the Belgian landscape is mainly moulded by past varying political authority, (federal, by community, by region, by province, by local authority, … you get the point) absent of a joint policy or vision, only serving a capitalist economy. This is how Belgium became one big suburban patchwork by scattering the nostalgia of the garden city, in the shape of the allotment.
This project raises questions about this Belgian urban policy, about its moral and righteousness. Protagonist is not the typical ideal freestanding magazine architecture, like on the cliffs by the sea, with no other house in the immediate surroundings. No, it’s in a typical belgian allotment, bound by urban rules like: maximum dimensions of X by Y meters, ground-to-gutter 6 meters, façade in facing brick, roof in tiles, minimum 2 roof surfaces in a 25°-45° inclination, maximum 2 levels + roof, no dormers, 1 garden house permitted of maximum 10 square meters situated minimum 2 meters of the neighbourings lots.
This system produces uninspiring consumption architecture, unadapted to contemporary cultural, ecological and sociological demands. (and not to mention architectural aura)
V+ bureau vers plus de bien-être (=V+, proud to be an architect/towards more than just well-being) proposed not to argue with local officials about an alternative appearance – bureaucracy is slow and rigid – but designed an entire different world in the interior, free of its ordinary shell.
Keeping up appearances amidst the other houses of the allotment, remaining cool, it boils inside, frustrated, shaking and stirring everything up.
The ground floor is filled with the demanded program while the conceptual image of a canyon, a visual labyrinth with gaps, cracks and cliffs is to be discovered upstairs for their children.
The children’s room with the ramps to reach them hang over the ground floor.
The light from the holes in the envelope creates irregular shadows on the volumes and surfaces of the interior sculpture, emphasizing its different spatiality, like the tectonics of a canyon’s walls do. It’smore than interior architecture, it’s architecture inside.
It’s almost a caricature of a belgian dwelling: it adapts to maximum volume and prescribed shape although the unconventional position and dimensions of the openings and the handling of the glass in the windows – without frame or with accentuated wooden blocks – conforms its critical position. Being different, but in a stealth way.
Ironically this is a semi-detached house – another dwelling , for another owner and by another architect, will be built attached to it.
One may wonder how the project would have looked like on the outside if it wasn’t for the unambitious urban policy.
V+ states : “Our fundamental beliefs, philosophy and hopes are contained in this name. We believe that architecture is not a question of square metres or provision of services. It is first and foremost a political stance, a cultural act, a poem of centimetres, a social statement, an ecological concern, a philosophical surprise, a desire for space, a source of dreams… …And above all about more life, more passion, more attitude, more joy, more smiles, more questions, more intensity, more assertions, more fantasies, more euphoria, more effervescence, more movement, more resistance, more instinct, more desires, more character, more will, more demands, more eagerness, more spirit, more sparkle, more freshness, more fulfilment, more vivacity, more conviction, more pride, more generosity, more love, more temerity, more audacity, more delight, more playfulness, more infatuation, more challenge, more sensuality, more fascination and more inspiration.”