The traditional “fermette”, or little farm, common in Flanders but ignored in architectural debate for much of the 20th century, has become a stylistic key once again. Graux & Baeyens architecten of Belgium have studied this archetype and created an evolution of its character in House VDV in Destelbergen, near Ghent. Designed for Jozef Vandervorst, who was already a client of the studio, and developed with him detail by detail, House VDV stands on the land divided into lots that was once the site of Château Eylosch, a late nineteenth-century manor house destroyed in the Second World War. Nothing remains of the castle but a portion of the enclosure wall, still identifying the boundaries of the lot, on the northern side of which Graux & Baeyens decided to build the new home.
The beauty of the tall oak trees in the garden has not been damaged by the construction of the home, but is incorporated in its design. By giving up the views of the outdoors framed by the classic little windows characteristic of the Belgian fermette, due to building regulations and the client’s choice, the project establishes dialogue between indoors and outdoors through the building’s structure and volumetric composition. The traditional rectangular volume is deconstructed; the perimeter of the home forms unexpected inward angles where the oblique walls alternate solid infill with glass. The home consists of a single space, spontaneously subdivided into areas for different functions by transforming the zig-zag floor-plan with the addition of sliding doors, but no additional internal walls. Other than the outside walls, there is a central axis in the home made up of three segments of wall, which the architects eloquently refer to as the building’s backbone.
The living area and the bedroom area are divided in the traditional fashion, between the ground floor and the first floor. The particular composition of the floor plan ensures that there is no preferential route from a particular entrance point along a particular path, because no one wall is chosen as the main one, and there are multiple points of access through the glass façades. The glass rising from ground level to the second floor, closing the gabled roof, replaces the function of a skylight. As the tiny openings in the walls of the traditional Flemish fermette are replaced by floor to ceiling windows, light is no longer minimal and directional, but floods into the spaces and takes them over. Along with the light, the view of the garden comes into the house on both levels: of the oak trees and the old enclosure wall, making the experience of nature part of the design of the home itself.
The building, a traditional brick and cement construction with a steel roof and timber beams, is covered all over with earth-coloured cladding. The untreated copper panels are changing their colour: golden at first, they are now brown and will probably turn bright green in the future, totally camouflaging the landscape.
Design: Graux & Baeyens architecten
Client: Jozef Vandervorst
Location: Destelbergen (Belgium)
Structural design: LIME bvba
Total useable surface area: 483 sqm
Lot size: 2030 sqm
Project start: 2011
Completion of work: 2013
Builder: Builthings nv
Steel window frames
Steel and timber roof
Brick and cement structure
Outer cladding of untreated copper
Wood, marble and carpet flooring
Photos: © Filip Dujardin