words Luke Tebbutt
images Tim van de Velde
Forget about architecture’s current preoccupation with expression – all computer-aided swoops and filigrees; this house offers architecture as a blank canvas. Its two starchy pavilions (one for a garage at the front; the other for the kitchen-living room at the back, opening on to a terrace) could be in Spain, or South Africa, rather than a suburban garden in soggy Belgium – and that was the idea. “The owners don’t have a lot of time to go away, so they wanted something next door that felt like another country,” says architect Steven Vandenborre.
As such, the building shuns its surroundings, enclosed by tall walls and detached from the traditional family home it shares the block with. It doesn’t even have a front door. Instead, you have to walk across the garden and find your way in through the side. But while its facade might be frosty, its embrace is warm, with the concrete walls and floor retaining heat long after the sun has gone, making it perfect for a pool terrace in a changeable climate.
“I always like people to feel buildings,” Vandenborre says of his tactile approach. “If you walk through the garden, it smells. We decided which spaces we wanted to have which smells.” He has also clad the garage door and chimney with a random criss-cross of timber strips that, in time, will echo the concrete. “Both will go grey. It’s already started now, and I like that. A building has to live, in a way.”
All concrete was formed on site, rather than delivered as prefabricated panels, which meant the long walls could be made in one single piece, without joints. The result is a crisp contrast to the neighbouring houses – a mock-Spanish house across the road, and an old white villa next door. “The area is quite old-fashioned, and that’s why we wanted to build something very basic. Very simple,” Vandenborre says. ‘You might not know what it is if you drove past it. It’s something that’s there, but it’s not like a normal building, and that’s nice.”