Architects' houses in Brussels. Strategies for valorisation

Map showing the geographical location of architects' houses in the Brussels Capital Region (© Linsy Raaffels, 2016)

Private house of architect Jaques Wybauw, Ukkel 1960 (© Linsy Raaffels, 26/01/2017)

Private house of architect Jean Capette, Elsene 1910 (©MBHG – DML,

Private house of architect Eugène Delatte, Elsene 1953 (©MBHG – DML,

Private house of architect Louis Herman De Koninck, Ukkel, 1924/1968 (©ArchitectenWoning,

The project focused on architects' houses in the Brussels Capital Region, as these are recognized as highly potential architectural gems. The architect's house, the home the architect builds for himself, is defined as a business card, a model project or built manifest. Often his own house is a unique opportunity for a technological, constructive, aesthetic or architectural experiment, or an expression of daring entrepreneurship. As such, it has special significance and value, even still today. Henceforth, it is all the more surprising that architects' houses in Brussels are hardly studied and valorized, with a few notable exceptions like Victor Horta's first house in Sint-Gillis. This project looked into the characteristics and qualities of architects' houses in Brussels and aimed to develop strategies for qualitative renovation and restoration projects, as well as various paths for the valorization of this heritage.

In 2016, an exhaustive register was drafted (in the context of Linsy's master thesis), including 252 houses designed and occupied by architects in the Brussels Capital Region. This register is the first in his kind, encompassing the whole territory of the capital region and spanning a large period of time (from the late 18th century until the 1970s). Building on the thesis, this PhD-project focused on three main lines of research.

Firstly, the original design intentions and qualities of architects' houses were studied on various levels (aesthetic, practical, technical, functional, formal, urban, etc.). The motives and objectives of the architects will be questioned: did they design the house as a manifest, a business card or a social or technical laboratory? The definition and assessment of these characteristics will form the necessary basis for further qualitative maintenance, renovation and restoration strategies.

Secondly, the evolution of architects' houses over time was looked into, including changes in occupancy, perception and material transformations. In addition, the interventions or transformations that might have occurred prior to, during or immediately after the architect's residence can influence the perception of the house and contribute to their state and status (listed versus demolished). A selection of qualitative restoration projects in Brussels was studied in depth and confronted with (inter-)national best practices (through literature study, archival research, interviews with experts and stakeholders), in order to analyze the process of how and why "building projects" evolve into "architectural heritage" and which obstacles could be found on the way.

Lastly, the aim was to investigate how we can assess and valorize this patrimony in a qualitative way. Starting from best practices, sustainable and respectful strategies and recommendations for the future of these houses still need to be formulated (based on empirical, theoretical and interdisciplinary research). 

The research was conducted by Linsy Raaffels, under the supervision of prof. dr. Stephanie Van de Voorde (VUB Architectural Engineering) and prof. dr. Inge Bertels (UAntwerpen), in collaboration with Barbara Van der Wee Architects. It was financed by Innoviris through a Doctiris scholarship (currently called 'Applied PhD').