We have been visiting Belgium for the last few years as Dimitri's sister and her family live here. As we were there for a short break over the Easter holidays I decided I would snap a few of the houses in their village and immediate surrounds. I think we can say that it was partly as a result of visiting Belgium that we were determined to build a house and one of a contemporary design. Prepare yourselves for a bit of a rant...
They live in a village on the outskirts of Brussels, this is proper commuter belt and a very interesting comparison to what you might find in similar areas in the UK. Having driven around Belgium, I would say that contemporary or modern architecture is just a normal part of life. It's not something that they are culturally predisposed to be frightened of...
Houses are not necessarily copies of a copy of a copy of a house which was once nice (I'm quoting Mr Luxton out of context here!).
These first few are examples of houses which I like a lot.
|This is my favourite house, impossible to photograph. It has two obliquely angled wings and you can see through the house to the garden behind.|
|Elegant and understated.|
If you want something a little less bold, how about these...
This house is a really typical. The street face is actually the back of the house and makes no apologies for that. Through the doorless and open vestible at the side you can glimpse the huge walls of glazing.
Looks amazing, impossible to photograph!
Do you see what I'm getting at yet?
There is a huge variety of contemporary homes as they are allowed to develop a range of styles.
This is the newest guy on the block and I have to say it's stunning! That doesn't necessarily mean that I would want to live here, but it is beautiful and bold.
One of the things we noticed is that houses are allowed to just be whatever they want to be. There is no obligation for them to resemble their neighbours or follow a vernacular style. In an average street you will see loads of different styles. We think that it makes each house stand on its own merits and makes the streetscape far more interesting. Roof heights and ridge levels, which is a massive deal in English Planning Control, seem to be less important here.
|You can see the slate clad, cantilevered house here 2nd from the left.|
|A very English styled house, beside a modernist box and a traditional steeply pitched roof in a row.|
There are houses I am less keen on but you know what, I love the fact that they are there. People are free to explore what works best for them rather than what works best for the conservative majority. People love to talk about the Belgians being boring but they blow fusty old conservative England away.
They have beautiful historic properties (have you seen the Grand Place in Brussels?), but they don't believe that everything should just be a copy of that. There are also more traditionally influenced new buildings...
|This is a very typical Belgian historical style.|
This post also shows a culture of designing and building houses that is completely absent within England. If this were the UK land would have been sold en-masse to a developer who would squeeze in the maximum number of identikit houses, with the lowest build quality they can get away with, to maximise profits. It's just not right! We are all impoverished by such a system.