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House in Opwijk by Marie-José Van Hee Architecten

Highly Commended: The second award winning entry from Marie-José Van Hee Architecten, this home in Opwijk carries an unusual and understated sophistication

A house for a child psychiatrist sounds like something that Otto Silenus, the terrifyingly austere Modernist in Waugh’s Decline and Fall, might cherish as a dream project, but this psychiatric practice-cum-home in Opwijk, near Brussels, is disarmingly approachable − at least materially. The red pitched roof, shallow red bricks laid with contrasting mortar, and the windows of the facade looking on to the square have the diagrammatic quality of a child’s drawing: this is unmistakably a home. But there is something unnerving about the fenestration.

One upper window cantilevers out, bug-eyed, into the street, while the house seems to have been blinded in its other eye (in fact this deep recess is a little terrace, affording light yet privacy to a bathroom). The window on the ground floor grimaces, only half-flush with the wall.

section plan

Ground floor plan and section - click to expand

Beyond this slightly uncanny facade lies a series of spaces, both semi-public and private, inserted with great ingenuity into the awkward site. Near the street on the ground floor are the waiting room, office and clinic, accessed by a public door under the sheltering garage roof. Above these are the family’s bedrooms and bathrooms.

Meanwhile at the back of the garage, another door takes family members to the one-storey living areas at the rear, separated from the practice by a courtyard so as not to disturb the young patients. The living room and kitchen are located back here, beneath an outsized chimney proclaiming domestic warmth.

Throughout the building, cool, calm and well-crafted materials enhance the thoughtfully apportioned spaces to create a house of unusual and understated sophistication.

House in Opwijk

Architect: Marie-Jose Van Hee Architecten

Photographs: David Grandorge

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