Architect in ChargeImport Export Architecture
Text description provided by the architects. The Ter Pitte project is part of a radical renovation of a street block. The demolition of the empty Thiery lift workshops in the centre of the block created space for a new division of the land and typological renewal.
The aims were ambitious: to build six urban dwellings, giving each of them a ‘sense of the street’, on a plot barely wide enough for three terraced houses. On the ground floor there is direct access to three dwellings with completely different plans. A deep and narrow ‘pipe house’ stretches to the gardens in the rear. A remarkable element is the multipurpose garage‐ office‐workshop next to the street. Deeper into the plot, a long top‐lit corridor provides access to two bedrooms that adjoin two small patios.
Open to the sky, and in deep‐brown brick, these are rooms of light and earth in the middle of the house. The corridor ends in the daytime area which, surrounded by all the gardens, is almost like a pavilion amongst the greenery. The second dwelling, the smallest but with the greatest width, is also entirely on the ground floor. All the daytime spaces are contained within the breadth of a single bay that runs from street to garden. A central core with the kitchen and washroom provides a certain separation between a multipurpose room near the street and the more intimate living area adjoining the garden. The third dwelling is conceived as a maisonette. On the ground floor it has the daytime areas and a walled garden.
A transverse open staircase in the living area partly mediates the view in from the street. The fact that all three dwellings draw the street inside, in their own way, is interesting but risky. Everyday life will determine whether the softness of the dwelling will win out over the hardness of the city. The three dwellings on the upper floor are accessible from street level by way of a semi‐private transitional space with stairs and landings in the open air. This shared access is an informal, attractive and safe meeting area that enables direct contact with the street via the stairs or the gallery. All three dwellings are of the maisonette type with daytime areas on the access level and three bedrooms upstairs. All the upper dwellings have at least one outside terrace with generous proportions and guaranteed privacy. The middle andhighest dwelling steals the show. A brown‐green volume clad in roof tiles divides the white upper section and towers over it. It is like living in a tree, in the midst of the city. In this design, this simple metaphor was elaborated in an infectious combination of naivety and professional skill — the trademark of Import.Export Architecture.
A photo of the imposing crown of a tree was ‘pixelated’ to the scale of the roof tiles. The designers sought out the right tile for each pixel amongst batches of approved and rejected roof tiles with related green tints. Here and there a tile with nesting openings was inserted for swifts, and some of them were converted into bulb‐holders. In the dark this tree house assumes a magical look — a wink to the late‐night passers‐by. Import.Export’s naïve poetics give something to both the building and the street. One cannot simply walk past it without looking. This project sweeps aside the false opposition between architectural quality and sale ability that today’s real estate market cannot, or will not, relinquish.
The complex intertwining and stacking of dwellings at Ter Pitte is anything but ordinary, but it results in a marvelous transition between public and private spaces. An interaction arises with the street and thus social control, while the occupants gain an exciting and yet reassuring place to meet up. At the same time, the act of inhabitation remains very familiar and the houses, especially the maisonettes, apparently conform very much to the market. Bold real estate with a flourish, much in demand and affordable! A strategy suited to discourage young families, who are slightly better off and looking for a good home, from leaving the city. In the future, more account will nevertheless have to be taken of the strict (too strict?) new regulations on accessibility.