House SSK confronts the old urban fabric with the desire for a larger whole. The house disengages from its context but is at the same time imprisoned within it.
House SSK provides a response to the recurrent and very direct issues that crop up when designing contemporary urban dwellings, such as the dilemma of new-build versus renovation, affordability, sustainability and comfort. The plot, in an old working class area in the centre of Kortrijk, prompted reflection on the intrinsic value of this urban fabric. Did it call for renovation, or intensification, or would tabula rasa be a better strategy?
The house combines these different options. It detaches itself from the existing frontage line, allowing for the creation of a volume that fulfils contemporary requirements. The facade was reconstructed as a gesture towards integration and at the same time acts as a buffer. Inside the plot this gave rise to an unrestrained freedom. The building, the ‘protected volume’, could now be optimized and oriented so as to generate the most efficient Existenzminimum possible. Every square metre counted.
The house was effectively turned inside-out, with beauty being created on the inside. On the plot boundary, the existing walls were preserved and the construction materials left exposed. The front elevation was rebuilt in basic clay blocks in a deliberate attempt to keep the costs down.
The living space forms a spatial entity with the street. Here the city becomes a part of the house. Or vice versa. The scale of living changes and so too the relation between interior and exterior. In House SSK that boundary is non-existent.
The residual spaces were turned into leafy front and back patios. At the front this greenery blends with the street, whereas elsewhere largely blank facades render the street inert. The new front elevation is defined but open. The glass facade behind offers purely physical protection.
The plan organization is straightforward, with a central volume where all the building services and stairs are concentrated. On the ground floor this comprises the bathroom and storage space for the bedroom at the back. On the first floor this closed volume becomes smaller and contains only the kitchen and stairs. The rest of the house is open. The glass box in which all this takes place is slightly rotated vis-à-vis the plot in order to take advantage of the available light throughout the day.
The Flemish city is wrestling with an identity crisis. It wants small-scale development but is forced to operate on the larger scale. One thing the mobility problem has demonstrated is that the urban fabric and the existing planning methodology are ill-adapted to present-day growth and changing lifestyles. The development of small, high-quality urban dwellings plays a crucial part in the evolution of this old urban fabric which, if it is to survive, must become part of a higher-density metropolitan entity. Kortrijk is part of the cross-border Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai, centrally located between London, Paris and Brussels. At the same time, it puts of lot of effort into strengthening its own identity and its position as the principal city of the heavily industrialized southern part of West Flanders. The result is a constant tension between local and metropolitan developments.
The house seeks to rethink present-day life in the central European city and in so doing to help create an urban environment that is a world away from the sterile and superseded suburbs. On the one hand by combining spatial quality with affordability, on the other by forging a new relationship between the individual and their changing context.