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Architects’ houses in Brussels. Strategies for valorisation

The project focuses on architects’ houses in the Brussels Capital Region, as these are recognized as highly potential architectural gems. The architect’s house, the home the architect builds for himself, is defined as a business card, a model project or built manifest. Often his own house is a unique opportunity for a technological, constructive, aesthetic or architectural experiment, or an expression of daring entrepreneurship. As such, it has special significance and value, even still today. Henceforth, it is all the more surprising that architects’ houses in Brussels are hardly studied and valorized, with a few notable exceptions like Victor Horta’s first house in Sint-Gillis. This project will define the characteristics and qualities of architects’ houses in Brussels and develop strategies for qualitative renovation and restoration projects, as well as various paths for the valorization of this heritage.

In 2016, an exhaustive register was drafted (in the context of Linsy’s master thesis), including 252 houses designed and occupied by architects in the Brussels Capital Region. This register is the first in his kind, encompassing the whole territory of the capital region and spanning a large period of time (from the late 18th century until the 1970s). Building on the thesis, this PhD-project will focus on three main lines of research.

Firstly, the original design intentions and qualities of architects’ houses will be studied on various levels (aesthetic, practical, technical, functional, formal, urban, etc.). The motives and objectives of the architects will be questioned: did they design the house as a manifest, a business card or a social or technical laboratory? The definition and assessment of these characteristics will form the necessary basis for further qualitative maintenance, renovation and restoration strategies.

Secondly, the evolution of architects’ houses over time will be looked into, including changes in occupancy, perception and material transformations. In addition, the interventions or transformations that might have occurred prior to, during or immediately after the architect’s residence can influence the perception of the house and contribute to their state and status (listed versus demolished). A selection of qualitative restoration projects in Brussels will be studied in depth and confronted with (inter-)national best practices (through literature study, archival research, interviews with experts and stakeholders), in order to analyze the process of how and why ‘building projects’ evolve into ‘architectural heritage’ and which obstacles could be found on the way.

Lastly, it will be investigated how we can assess and valorize this patrimony in a qualitative way. Starting from best practices, sustainable and respectful strategies and recommendations for the future of these houses will be formulated (based on empirical, theoretical and interdisciplinary research). The results will be disseminated via various channels: academic peers will be reached through conference presentations, journal articles and the final PhD, while professionals, policymakers and the wider public will be addressed by means of workshops, public lectures, an open-access project website and (vulgarizing) publications.

The research is conducted by Linsy Raaffels, under the supervision of prof. dr. Inge Bertels and prof. dr. Stephanie Van de Voorde (VUB, department of Architectural Engineering), in collaboration with Barbara Van der Wee Architects. It is financed by Innoviris through a Doctiris scholarship: the scholarship involves a part-time embedment at the university and in a private company (in this case the architectural office Barbara Van der Wee Architects’), to ensure a continuous synergy between theory and practice.