11.4.2024

Social Housing in Dessel

Studio Farris Architects recently completed 22 social residences in Dessel, a small town of 9,000 inhabitants in the province of Antwerp in Belgium.

The housing complex on the outskirts of the belgian city is all about sharing, collective living and the enhancement of the identity of the residential units, so as to offer an alternative to the more standardized solutions typical of social housing.

Belgium has experienced a prolonged boom in house prices already since the mid- 1980s. As a result of the dire economic situation, the Flanders region – the country’s economic driver due mainly to the presence of the three major ports of Antwerp, Ghent and Zeebrugge and the Brussels- National International Airport- is also facing a growing shortage of affordable housing. In response to this problem, De Ark, a Belgian company with 100 years’ experience in implementing social housing projects, planned to build a complex of 22 social residences in Dessel.

Studio Farris Architects, the Antwerp-based firm headed by Italian architect Giuseppe Farris, won the competition launched by De Ark in June 2012. Construction started in February 2018; the buildings were completed in March 2021 while landscaping was finalized in August 2022. All 22 residences have been assigned.

They consist of 6 houses of 119 square meters, 8 apartments of 92 square meters, and 8 apartments of 78.5 square meters.

Studio Farris’ scheme has residences set back from the street so that a large public garden can be implemented to serve the entire neighborhood. A shared pedestrian area for spending time together and relaxing. The idea is precisely to develop the social life of the neighborhood around a green, public and shared core, and at the same time to ensure that each housing unit has a small private back garden, which favors a more domestic and intimate atmosphere.

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The housing units are all organized according to a common layout, with the living room, dining room and kitchen and a small service bathroom on the ground floor; the bedrooms on the upper floor. But the configurations of the various rooms are varied, as are the formal choices that define the facades, so that each dwelling appears as an independent unit, albeit part of a complex.

“The project is inspired by the idea that social housing can enjoy variety, richness of nuance, that is not normally found in the standardized, serial solutions of low-cost housing.” Giuseppe Farris

The 22 dwellings are contained within 7 buildings that are arranged side by side in the inner part of the lot. Between the street and the residences is a green area designed as a park for collective use. Each building is placed orthogonally to the street and is defined by the juxtaposition of two parallelepiped volumes, one shifted from the other, characterized by a constant width and a varying length. Their height also differs, though slightly. As a whole, the complex takes on a loose configuration, in which buildings protrude and recede variably, resulting in an ever- changing interplay. Private gardens are located at the back of the buildings.

The compact, flat-roofed houses are made of brick, a typical and still widely used solution in the local area that Studio Farris adopted while incorporating different mixtures and colors so as to create slight variations between one building and the next. On the facades, the ample openings also adhere to a loose composition.

Rainwater that falls on the roofs of houses and on carports is recuperated to be used in residences for toilets, garden irrigation, and washing machines. With this system, residents can reuse as much water as possible, and the rest is channeled within the land itself. A sewage system is no longer needed, and the natural groundwater level is replenished.

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The geometric layout that rules the floor plan of the buildings also organizes the green areas, including the park, whose staggered shape seems to reflect the design of the built area. Within the park, in contrast to its perimeter, a fluid and sinuous system of pedestrian paths and open areas is defined to accommodate various functions – from a children’s play area to benches for resting. Then there are areas referred to as wadi, which are wetlands where rainwater from the square is piped into a drainage that lets the water slowly seep into the ground.

Studio Farris Architects recently completed the new Buysse & Partners Headquarters as a renovation of an entire floor of the BP Building in Antwerp, Belgium, a modernist icon designed by Leon Stynen in 1963. The studio is also finalizing a project for the regeneration of an entire block in the center of Zottegen and a large residential and public program in Anderlecht.

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