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21 January 2021

Business Cards of Stone, Timber and Concrete in the Brussels Region 1830-1970

The Architect’s Own House as a Commercial Tool

Linsy Raaffels, Stephanie Van de Voorde, Inge Bertels, Barbara Van der Wee

  • West facade. Maison Oréjona, Luc Schuiten, Overijse, Belgium, 1976. Photo: Private archive of Luc Schuiten.
  • Interior and staircase, Luc Schuiten at work at his drawing table. Maison Oréjona, Luc Schuiten, Overijse, Belgium, 1976. Photo: Private archive of Luc Schuiten.
  • Main facade facing the Lutherstraat. Gustave Strauven’s personal residence, Gustave Strauven, Brussels, Belgium, 1902. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Back facade facing the Calvijnstraat. Gustave Strauven’s personal residence, Gustave Strauven, Brussels, Belgium, 1902. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Interior of the ground floor anno 2019. Gustave Strauven’s personal residence, Gustave Strauven, Brussels, Belgium, 1902. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Front facade. Henri Van Massenhove’s first personal residence, Henri Van Massenhove, Brussels, Belgium, 1894. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Interior of the bel étage anno 2017. Henri Van Massenhove’s first personal residence, Henri Van Massenhove, Brussels, Belgium, 1894. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • West facade. Maison Oréjona, Luc Schuiten, Overijse, Belgium, 1976. Photo: Private archive of Luc Schuiten.
  • Interior and staircase, Luc Schuiten at work at his drawing table. Maison Oréjona, Luc Schuiten, Overijse, Belgium, 1976. Photo: Private archive of Luc Schuiten.
  • Main facade facing the Lutherstraat. Gustave Strauven’s personal residence, Gustave Strauven, Brussels, Belgium, 1902. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Back facade facing the Calvijnstraat. Gustave Strauven’s personal residence, Gustave Strauven, Brussels, Belgium, 1902. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Interior of the ground floor anno 2019. Gustave Strauven’s personal residence, Gustave Strauven, Brussels, Belgium, 1902. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Front facade. Henri Van Massenhove’s first personal residence, Henri Van Massenhove, Brussels, Belgium, 1894. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.
  • Interior of the bel étage anno 2017. Henri Van Massenhove’s first personal residence, Henri Van Massenhove, Brussels, Belgium, 1894. Photo: Linsy Raaffels.

The house the architect builds for himself and his family can be considered as a unique, autobiographical record. Because of the twofold role of being both designer and client, the architect can seize the opportunity to conceive his house as a manifesto, a technological experiment or as a turning point in his career. Moreover, he can also deploy his house as a commercial tool to attract future clients; as a life-size business card which demonstrates his professional expertise and ambitions.

Research into this specific building type has revealed over 330 architects’ houses built in the Brussels Capital Region between 1830 and 1970. A geographical and chronological analysis showed that many architects used their own home to take part in, or even to anticipate on, evolutions related to the extension of the urban fabric or the development of new architectural styles like art nouveau or modernism.

To fully grasp the significance of the architect’s house as a specific building type, we critically reflect on the characteristics that distinguish this project from other buildings. As such, we have identified five inherent characteristics, namely the position of the house within the oeuvre of the architect, the relationship with the future clientele, the house as working place, how the architect engages his professional network, and finally how the house relates to an earlier or future version. For instance, the ambitions and impact of a house built at the beginning or near the end of the career will be very different. It can also be particularly interesting to see whether the architect uses the house to engage with his clients in a socio-economic or geographical way. Whether and how the architect integrates an architectural studio or office in the house is often also telling for how he practices architecture, as is the way he collaborates with other building actors during the design. And if an architect built several houses for himself, the comparison of these projects generates a deeper understanding of the personal ambitions, professional development and the different space-time contexts in which the architect operates.

Through the lens of these relationships, we discuss how architects’ houses can evolve into a business card. Therefore, in relation to the architectural and professional aspirations of the architects, especially the role and impact of their own houses on their future portfolio is investigated by means of three case studies: the own house of Henri Van Massenhove (Brussels, 1894), Gustave Strauven (Brussels, 1902), and Luc Schuiten (Overijse, 1976). Each of these houses illustrates a different ambition and tells a unique story embedded in a particular context. Ranging from a model house to a personal statement, they all show the various ways in which architects’ houses can become a harbinger for the architect’s future work and how it can function as a business card, both accidentally as intentionally. As such, the analysis based on those five inherent characteristics enables us to fathom the added value of the architect’s house as a specific building type.

Linsy Raaffels (PhD architectural engineering) conducts research into the architectural value of architects’ houses (1830-1970) and links this to future valorization perspectives. The research project ‘Architects’ Houses in Brussels. Strategies for Valorisation’ is being carried out part-time in the Department of Architectural Engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and part-time in the office of Barbara Van der Wee Architects.
Linsy.Raaffels@vub.be

Prof. Inge Bertels (PhD architectural engineering) is vice dean and professor in the Faculty of Design Sciences at the University of Antwerp. Her research spans the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century architecture, construction and urbanism. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Flanders Architecture Institute and of the advisory committees of the international magazines Construction History and Aedificare. Inge.Bertels@uantwerpen.be

Prof. Stephanie Van de Voorde (PhD architectural engineering) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel conducts research into the history of architecture and construction, materials and architectural culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and into (modern) heritage. She is an editor of M&L (Monumenten, Landschappen en Archeologie), Expert Member of the Icomos-committee ISC20C and founding member of the International Federation for Construction History.
Stephanie.Van.de.Voorde@vub.be

Barbara Van der Wee, through her practice, Barbara Van der Wee Architects, Studio for Architecture and Conservation (Brussels), undertakes the restoration of nineteenth- and twentieth-century heritage structures, including many art nouveau buildings. She teaches at the Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation (University of Leuven), is a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts and an expert consultant for Europa Nostra and UNESCO World Heritage.
info@barbaravanderwee.be

Download article (English):
Business Cards of Stone, Timber and Concrete
The Architect’s Own House as a Commercial Tool

Download article (Dutch):
Visitekaartjes in steen, hout en beton
De eigen woning van de architect als commercieel instrument

Posted 21 January 2021