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A difficult and relatively small parcel, bordered on one side by one of Ghent’s canals (the Ketelvaart) and other one by a narrow alley (the Ketelvest), was to form the basis of this project. Because of its unfortunate orientation and the high buildings across the street, the slightly trapezium-shaped site was craving for light. As such, the entry of light has been the main parameter during the design of these two housing units.

Both apartment as city dwelling have a retracted, fully-glazed entrance. The front façade is made out of light materials (light-grey exposed concrete and ditto steel balustrades; and gates with withened siding that fill in the surfaces). Relief is achieved by placing balustrades, windows and gates in different planes. The rear façade is a timber frame structure clad with blackened planks and withened framework. The entrance to the building from the tow path along the canal is hidden behind those planks. The dwelling is built towards the light, while the apartment underneath develops a specific relation with the canal, which flows one level and a half below street level.

The house has a carport and a bicycle storage that serves as a covered entrance as well. This entrance is connected with the canal through a wedge-shaped staircase (containing an elevator), from where the spacious basement or the upper quarters can be reached.Due to the limited amount of daylight the bedrooms and bathrooms are situated on the first floor. An open living space with kitchen are located on the second floor, edged by two terraces. The terrace on the street side, although humble in size, has a strong spatial impact on the living floor when the windows are unfolded, turning the room into a large covered terrace. On the back side an elevated terrace is partially covered by the zinc-clad roof, which fans out towards the east, offering views on the nearby Walpoorstraat. This terrace contains a triangular window that admits morning light on the staircase. Indoors, from the elevated plinth – level with the terrace -, a wooden staircase leads towards the third floor, which functions as a guest room and a library – all gathered underneath a ceiling with complex geometrical structure. This complexity arose from an existing easement: a little window in the adjacent gable. Besides the facility for a fireplace this storey houses a terrace with a shower room. An oblong plant box covering the concrete structure of the front façade provides extra privacy (from the school across the street) and a green touch on an unexpected place. From this lookout once again the elevator – this time hidden – is accessible.

The apartment with bicycle storage has a fully-glazed rear façade that –similar to the roof terrace -provides views on the activities in the Walpoortstraat. Here as well living space and kitchen merge into one another.A wooden staircase descends towards the sleeping quarters and a little basement. The difference in level between the street and the canal allows the penetration of daylight. The wooden flooring and the reflection of the water on the ceiling turns this storey into a pleasant place as well.

Program: Urban house and apartment at canal
Client: Mr. and Mrs. Vandewalle - Van Damme
Location: Ghent, Belgium
Timeline: 2007 - 2013
Project Team: Marie-José Van Hee (architect), Sam De Vocht (project architect)
Structural Engineer: BAS, Dirk Jaspaert
Photography: Sam De Vocht, Petra Decouttere