Duchesse House / Notan Office
Text description provided by the architects. NOTAN OFFICE, a Brussels-based architecture, and urban design practice have demonstrated its expertise in transforming industrial courtyards into housing ensembles while preserving the essence of the place. The firm’s architectural strategy involves reusing in-situ elements and structural components, which helps them to create a strong identity that blends past, present, and future. By maintaining the existing DNA of the site, NOTAN OFFICE avoids disrupting the site’s historical significance, and their approach promotes a sense of continuity and respect for the site’s heritage. This technique is highly relevant for urban development projects, as it encourages a sustainable approach to architecture that values a location’s history and cultural heritage.
Microcity. The project is built in a dense area of Brussels, near the canal, a historically industrial area. The square facing the plot is an active urban pocket where trams, markets, schools, churches, and public activities meet. This mix was also very present in the given plot. On the square, an old townhouse from the late 1800s hides two long industrial halls sharing a courtyard.
In this saturated context and by “digging” inside the built mass of the plot, a housing ensemble is created with 3 multi-oriented volumes sharing a generous common garden.
The project is an agglomeration of volumes and scales in a green area. A typical Brussels townhouse, its extension resembling a Roman ruin, a brick industrial façade, some rounded steps, some elements of the past constructions, and the new tiled volumes; all with their private outdoor space overlooking the common garden… From the public square, as soon as the main door opens, a smooth transition between public, common, and private, and the flowing between the built feels like walking in a small village, a microcity.
In this idea of generating a small community, the ground floor is organized with programs that belong to everyone. The bicycle parking and a small atelier inside glass bricks are under the central volume. Semi-private gardens and living spaces articulate the common area. On this shared ground floor, all is fluid and transparent, accentuating the ensemble’s sense of belonging.
Genius Loci. The project respects the DNA of the place. Transforming an industrial site into housing should not kill its original identity. A promotional project on such a site should not rhyme with white-plastered facades and plastic windows.
Huge attention was given to the materials. For the outdoor as well as for then the indoor, the materiality avoids any artifice. They are shown as they are and valued as ornaments. The concrete blocks have no paint, the structure is shown and the project composes with them. No half blocks, no half tiles; all fit.
On top of that many elements are present on site before the project is reused, reinterpreted, and reorganized. Existing doors inside the apartments, the “porphire” tiles reorganized for the outdoor path, and the central building is partly supported by the former concrete structure of the former shed.
The new volume’s shape is within the former shed’s outlines. Setbacks were necessary to improve the living quality of each unit. This organic transformation of shapes generates peculiar spatial qualities that can only belong to that specific place. The red volume is a massive abstract volume standing on a transparent ground level. This strong identity belongs to the industrial language but also becomes adapted to housing in this environment.
The project wants to prolong the past history and respect the “spirit of the place”, it went from industry to housing but is still in an industrial environment.
Inside. Both new volumes inside the courtyard are against the neighboring walls. Those walls are “inflated” in order to host all technical elements as well as circulation, kitchens, toilets, and bathrooms. Living areas and bedrooms are therefore pushed towards the façade and the light.