Text description provided by the architects. Making the old one last longer because of the new: for centuries, architecture has done nothing else than this exercise of reuse, until the demand for recycling stagnated by an abundance of materials. Although the development of sustainable use encourages the recycling of materials such as those of buildings, reuse is not always an obvious thing and in the first instance it conflicts with the wear and tear of the objects that one wishes to reuse. It therefore seemed difficult to give a new life to this vacant agricultural building in the rural part of the Belgian municipality of Grimbergen. But the owner — a family who lived in the city — and touched by the beauty of this mini-ruin, asked the architect to design a contemporary project. Other important requirements were the preservation of the view of the underlying agricultural land, and a long-term energy-independent home. In view of the latter, all possibilities are foreseen to invest even more in renewable energy sources. A design was proposed by the architects that would visually contrast with that of the existing home with livestock stables in decline. For this purpose a ruin shell was created that immediately formed an acoustic buffer to the street and the surrounding area.
The house was banal and characterless and in a very bad condition. The adjacent stables and barn were much more powerful in volume. Their massiveness immediately appealed to everyone, but they did not contain any comfort, nor the technical construction to be able to rebuild correctly. Yet we wanted to get started with that distinctive and solid brick structure, and especially with the impressive double gable on the left. Furthermore, we felt it was important that this brick feeling in the home should be felt. We chose to empty the buildings completely and to keep the solid carcass as a mantle, and to build within it a maximum prefabricated and insulated volume. This allowed us to optimize a ‘protected volume’ even more stringently than the EPB requirements. The solid carcass is functional because it forms a first acoustic buffer against the environment.
In this way the result meets our vision: modern living arises from desires, needs, requirements, the site, … Design has a causal connection, is self-evident and not gratuitous or linked to iconic designs.
We took this decision together with the owner during the design process. The essence of the existing building is a strong witness of the past. We wanted to preserve the created ruin and also its specific function in all, namely the mantle of the insulated living cocoon. Both complement each other and determine the end result. The zinc profile plate cladding refers to the basic material that used to be used regularly at farms as roofs for for example open air storages.
The internal structure is simple: a thick concrete slab on the ground, a steel skeleton with steeldeck floors. Walls and roofs were covered with standard industrial insulation panels. Both were then fully insulated on the inside and finished with plasterboard. On the outside, the fac?ades were further finished with zinc profiled sheets, and also on the flat roofs was extra insulation added. The floors of the ground floor are in polished concrete on top of a continuous sprayed Polyurethane insulation layer. This structure was needed to be able to build a perfectly thermally and acoustically isolated cocoon within the brick structure. An additional advantage of this method on top of the concrete slab, is that it is a dry method from start to finish.
The building became more stringent than the standard air-tight norms. A heat pump, connected to depth drilling pipes, controls the heating: underfloor heating on the ground floor and low temperature radiators on the first floor. In the future, energy can be generated in other ways. For example, the boiler is already equipped to work on solar panels. The client also opted for a ventilation system C. And the orientation is very favorable. North West on the closed street side, and East South on the back.
The long entrance is the perfect example of our philosophy that a self-evident circulation is more than a circulation zone alone. This space is also an elongated cloakroom and storage room. This does not stand out, because the separating closet wall is pushed into the building like a piece of furniture. The light from the large window at the end automatically lures the visitor up to there, and gives you a last look at the front yard before you enter the privacy of the house. The staircase stands as a slightly hinged element between the front and rear volume, emphasized by two-storey high windows. There you look through the building both inside and out. All day functions were directed to the garden side with their view. Night functions and storage facilities were placed on the street side. The desired view can be experienced at the rear in both the kitchen, the dining room and the sitting room, and is even reinforced in the mezzanine and living space. The covered terrace next to the kitchen and the garden shed are both deliberately integrated into the main volume.
Simplicity, honesty and uniformity are the starting points. The worktop in the kitchen is in honed black granite and the cabinets in a tropical FSC veneer. The concrete floor on the ground floor was a wish of the builder and brings peace to this complete level. It is also used outside for the terraces, thus anchoring the building on the surrounding grounds. The floors of the first floor are in wood, and the bathroom walls in glass mosaic. These are the simple ingredients of the recipe: brick, polished concrete, glass, wood, all fair and pure applied.
First and foremost the courage of the client to go along in the story of confrontation between present and past, and to show the contrast between existing massiveness and light fill-in structure. Thereafter the fixed framed view that you can experience to the maximum within the walled lines. And last but not least: since the move, this family always has a wonderful holiday feeling when they get home.
Stephan & Myriam Van Wassenhove — Vangenechten