Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Canopy house in Pajottenland, Belgium by MDMA
May 31st, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: MDMA
A house built in a landscape of rolling hills, south of Brussels. This landscape being open and rural has been well preserved over the centuries as a consequence of the medieval castle (of Gaasbeek) that overlooks it. In a wider range Pieter Brueghel the Elder, one of our most famous painters, helped to its preservation by eternalising it (see ‘the harvest’, Metropolitan Museum, NY, fig). One can actually take a tour and visit the sites behind the paintings.
Our 600m2 house coexists -in size- with the large farm steads that pop up here and there in a spread formation. But rather than building in brick, making the house heavy, we choose for a steel structure (comparable with Piessens Turnover) and which allows for ‘other’ building characteristics. We organised the house around a ramp that takes as it where the surrounding sloping hills all the way up to the top of the house. Few houses are large enough to pull this off. Villa Savoye built by Le Corbusier in 1929-1931 set an example. Here a slab on columns, with a ramp included, floats above the landscape which was accomplished with the at the time revolutionary, reinforced concrete.
We thought we could bring a variation on Villa Savoye, now using this steel structure to arrive at a twisted box. The ground floor is occupied by a garden flat. Peculiar are the half level high ‘hidden storage’ rooms between levels – instigated by the ramp that can only go up with half a level at the time. Then again the client is a lawyer and a dean who needs a lot of space to stock files and documents.
Also because the ramp proceeds with half a level at the time, sleeping rooms sit 1.35 meter higher up than the piano-room. The library can have a double high space. Kitchen and dining sit on a stage looking out over the 70m2 living room. Canopy – what’s in a name- swings historically between a monument and a chair; or between a mosque with a dome and an Egyptian urn with a removable (human) head; and between a bed under a mosquito net and a sandwich – the latter being a local Antwerp meaning – added by the client.
A house in a valley
In the course of history the word canopy has evolved from the Egyptian urn with a removable (human) head, to a mosque with a dome, to a bed under a large mosquito net and finally to an armchair covered or draped with linen. The client, a native of Antwerp added on top a local meaning : a sandwich (canapé). What we try to achieve is to give a monumental house the swung of a piece of furniture. The building blocks we started with are 2 identical (be it mirror wise) folded EL-shapes (Fig). These consoles, we can click together, in a shifted manner, give it some margin for play. This margin allows to introduce the circulation (ramps run from bottom to top) and to hide half a level high storage spaces in-between the living spaces.
The upper console (containing bedrooms, study, kitchen and dining room) is grafted onto the street. The lower console (containing garden flat, living space and library) is oriented somewhat to the garden and the landscape behind. Around these core elements sits a homogeneous skin : roof, front and back façade caught in one loop; the static building volume lifted out of its joints.
A story about the words “guise”, “Geus”, “gaas” (Dutch for veil). Arriving into this rural country, west from Brussels, the landscape changes dramatically. From suburbs it goes to the soft rolling hills that are best known from Brueghel the Elder’s paintings. Particularly where our site is, given to the castle of Gaasbeek that has been dominating it for many centuries, the landscape is very well preserved.
This castle is a landmark in Belgian history, as it is known as the residence of the ‘Count of Egmont’. Both ‘Egmont and Hoorne’, freethinkers, dissidents, ‘Geuzen’ have been decapitated on the Grand Place of Brussels by the duke of Alva, leader of the Spanish Inquisition under the rule of Philip II. The aim was to smother the rise of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. The Canopy House is built in the adjacent valleys. The client wanted us to capture the special light that is hanging there.
We dealt with it as following : The ramp that runs to the top, ends with a shower of glass. A crow’s nest. From here sight through a vertical slit window that sits in the sloping roof, is oriented on the castle, standing at a distance. The clients, lawyers -particularly Frank is a notorious freethinker, writer, a policy maker, Geus in every sense- are able to wash themselves as a true act of rejuvenation, as a catharsis, in memory of this one line of flight.
Building materials : A 600m2, 20 meters long house allowing for a 10% ramp. The ramp organizes the spaces into split-levels. . A visible steel structure facilitates the ability to cantilever, and shift the plans : deforming the box and roof typology. A staircase poured in concrete provides extra stiffness (ochre metallic)
Half level high storage spaces ‘hide’ wind trusses.
Exterior : cladding in a polyester bandage (altered with continuous glass walls). Wooden shingles as roof material.
Sustainability : A loop of roof shingles on north-south axis versus cold or heat. The house is a bubble ; energy losses reduced, greenhouse effect enforced. Roof water and drainage runs into an existing pond on the site and contributes to flora and fauna.