Text description provided by the architects. A small dwelling is inserted authentically among the houses overlooking the Brussel-Scheldt sea canal that divides the small town of Humbeek, part of the municipality of Grimbergen, in the Flemish Brabant county in Belgium. In emphasizing the relationship with the canal, the project of this house relies on the original spatial configuration based on the definition of a new relationship between interior and exterior.
Designed by Studio Farris, the Humbeek Canal House was created to replace a pre-existing building and make the most of the available roof space by respectfully positioning itself in the profile defined by the canal-facing row of apartment buildings, matching the surrounding gabled roofs. But the elegant adaptation to the urban context is enriched by new solutions, which expand the possibilities of the plot and redefine the conditions of use of the house.
The other houses overlooking the canal do not take advantage of the presence of the watercourse, which deprives it of any opportunity to express the public dimension and the view of the outer space. In fact, the traditional design of the houses contains living quarters on the ground floor, with high windows protected by blinds for privacy. Then Studio Farris worked on the size and distribution of the space, emptying part of the original envelope, and reversed the program by placing the living area upstairs and the sleeping areas on the ground floor, working on a subtle redefinition of the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.
If the house at the back uses the full height allowed, then the layout of the building in the front is changed. The building recedes, resulting in an introverted facade that is organized around a new open space created by subtracting volume. The project by Studio Farris defines an unexpected spatial layout consisting of an entrance courtyard on the ground floor, serving as a filter between the street and the house, offset by a small garden at the back of the house.
It’s a kind of “Japanese yard,” says Giuseppe Varese, recalling the works of Carlo Scarpa that he carefully researched while studying at the IUAV in Venice. The idea is for a small secret garden to be discovered outside the gate that separates it from the road along the canal. In the yard, the tree lends a natural feel and a sense of warmth and proportion. The two bedrooms on the ground floor also benefit from this quiet and intimate condition. One opens directly onto the patio, the other overlooks the backyard.
The patios also help define the spatial continuity between the ground floor and the upper floor, in which the living quarters are arranged. An accessible staircase from the entrance courtyard leads up to the upper floor and opens next to the entrance courtyard, revealing a view of the canal. At this point, the living room expands and expands to the outside through a balcony that brings air and light inside. The living area extends to the dining room and, having reached the back of the house, into the kitchen overlooking the second courtyard.
The relationship established between the interior spaces, the courtyards and the exterior spaces helps to define a perfect connection between the two floors and to give the entire intervention a spatial continuity that reveals at every turn a new relationship with the exterior.