Brussels is a city of houses. Unlike many European cities, but like other capitals such as London or Amsterdam, housing in Brussels has developed around the single-family house. This form of housing is so common that its inhabitants do not question it, even if visitors from abroad are struck by a capital made up of terraced houses. The majority of these houses were built at the beginning of the twentieth century and they still make up more than a third of Brussels’ housing stock. However, this is not the only form of housing to be found here: Brussels sometimes offers a collage of styles and types typical of Belgian cities.
Tell me where you live and I will tell you who you are!
The book Brussels Housing, just published by Birkhäuser, aims to analyse and illustrate the variety of housing forms in Brussels. This objective is pursued from an architectural point of view by examining the spatial characteristics of housing through the different phases of the city’s evolution, from its origin to its golden age at the turn of the twentieth century, and up to contemporary practices. In addition to documenting the qualities of housing itself, the book examines the mechanisms of housing evolution and the ways in which its production has shaped the city.
The book also addresses the challenges that the city faces nowadays, such as the increase in the city’s population, climate change or social inclusion. In addition, since the 1960s Brussels is confronted to the dream of suburban living in isolated villas. In this challenge posed by the periphery, housing plays a central role in the quest to improve urban life quality.
The analysis of housing spaces also reveals local lifestyles, uses and housing practices. By understanding the places we live in, we also learn to understand ourselves, and we are given tools to shape our environment.
A Typology of Typologies
The authors have used typo-morphological analysis to examine the multiple forms of housing found in Brussels. Typo-morphology is a tool that combines investigations on urban forms – morphology – and – typology – the layout of housing. While a “type” can be defined as a set of qualities common to objects of the same nature, grouped according to a specific criterion, a “typology” is a classification of different types. But architects also use the term “typology” to describe the composition and articulation of spaces in a building. The book is situated at the meeting point of these two definitions as it aims both to classify the forms of housing present in Brussels and to analyse their spatial composition.
Within this definition of type, it is interesting to note that most cities have a dominant type. This is generally the residential type that was built during the demographic boom of the city. Its omnipresence makes it identifiable and linked to the identity of the city itself. Thus, Paris can be identified with the Haussmann buildings of the 19th century, Naples with the palazzi of the 18th century, Amsterdam with the herenhuis of the 17th century along the canals, Bath with the crescents of the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, or Berlin with the Mietskasernen of 1850 to 1940. In Brussels, the dominant type is what Victor Horta called the Bonne Maison Moyenne at the turn of the 20th century.
Three chapters, three mediums
The structure of this book is threefold. Firstly, it traces the origins of housing in Brussels and the formation of its most common housing type, the middle-class row-house. The implementation of this dominant type coincides with the first large-scale development plan for the city at the end of the 19th century. In a second step, it examines the other housing forms present in the city by comparing them to this dominant type. This generates an innovative housing classification, which illustrates the reasons for the emergence of other forms of housing in comparison with the dominant type. Finally, the last chapter looks at contemporary housing production in Brussels. It highlights the ongoing social mutations and the transitions that housing is undergoing to adapt to the cultural diversity that defines the city today.
To tell this three-stages story, three mediums have been used: writing, drawing and photography. All three tell, in their own way, the story of housing in Brussels and its domestic and urban qualities. The texts are accompanied by archives. A vast atlas of drawings brings together 108 significant cases. They illustrate the diversity of housing typologies in Brussels from the Middle Ages to the present day. For an easy comparison, they were all redrawn with identical graphic codes and scales. Finally, Maxime Delvaux’s photographs tell a story in their own right: they convey the atmosphere and quality of the urban spaces created by the selected buildings in different districts of Brussels.
The book provides an insight into the variety of housing forms in Brussels over the years. This diversity is particularly evident when gabled houses stand next to modernist flat blocks or 19th century mansions, creating a sometimes surreal urban landscape. This superimposition of typical Belgian housing solutions is a formal and poetic chaos, but it could also provide answers to future challenges, such as the diversification of the demography. May this book be a tool to understand, perpetuate and invent new forms of living in Belgium.
BRUSSELS HOUSING. Atlas of Residential Building Types
by Gérald Ledent & Alessandro Porotto
Preface by Jacques Lucan
Photographs by Maxime Delvaux
500 illustrations, 200 colour illustrations
ISBN – 978-3-0356-2550-9
More details: https://birkhauser.com/books/9783035625530