Sunday, September 20, 2009

Belgian architecture eschews monotony, embraces variety

Shared party walls, for example, don't just divide households; they may divide contrasting designs and construction styles
Michael Geller, Special to The Sun
Published: Saturday, September 19, 2009

Recently, I returned from three weeks in Belgium and Luxembourg. While I spent a number of nights in hotels, most of my time was spent in a rambling 22-room house in Zomergem, a small village between Bruges and Ghent. While I lived in this former mayor's mansion, which had been lovingly restored, the owner and his family were enjoying my much smaller home in Vancouver.

This was our seventh house exchange. Like all the others, it went extremely well, without any problems. Not only did we exchange homes, we also exchanged cars. However, unlike some previous years, we did not exchange cats or cellphones.

House exchanges are a wonderful way to travel. Not only can you save money, you can also experience a country in a way that is simply not possible when staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.

During an exchange, one also often gets to meet the neighbours. We were fortunate in having Tom and Martine nearby. They both spoke perfect English and helped us better understand the local cultures and customs.

Although summer is now over, it's not too early to perhaps consider a house exchange as a good way for your family to travel next summer.

While Belgium is not as popular as France or Italy as a tourist attraction, it has an extremely interesting history and extraordinary places to visit. And as I discovered, in addition to the wonderful chocolates, it also offers ideas and lessons that could help make our cities more livable and attractive.

One of the first things that I noticed in Zomergem was the way the streets were designed and built to improve traffic safety. Throughout the village -- and in most nearby towns and cities -- bicycle paths are clearly marked with specially coloured paving or asphalt. There is also a separate bicycle highway network with its own numbering system, signage and maps.In and around Zomergem, road intersections are raised about 10 cm, or four inches. This is done to caution drivers and help slow down traffic. Some intersections also have large mirrors to improve visibility. Pedestrian crosswalks are very clearly marked, sometimes with tall black and yellow striped poles and additional overhead lighting. When I commented on these designs, my neighbour told me that the country had recently embarked on a very deliberate traffic safety program to reduce the number of fatalities. The goal was no more than 500 a year -- in a country of 11 million people, five million cars and thousands of national and international trucks.

I had no idea how many traffic fatalities occurred in our country, so I did some research. While I was pleased to discover that the number of fatal accidents has been steadily dropping, there were still 2,900 deaths across Canada in 2006. If Canada was to attempt to limit traffic fatalities to the same level as Belgium's proportionately, those 2,900 deaths would need to be cut in half. Improved intersection designs, better pedestrian crosswalks and safer bicycle lanes might help.

Belgium has a great architectural history and cities like Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels have many streetscapes full of buildings dating back to the 17th century, and earlier. During the 19th century, many buildings were designed in what is called the neoclassical style and architectural revivalism, which combined various architectural styles from earlier periods. However, at the end of the 19th century, a new style was created in Europe, which became known as art nouveau. Many areas in Brussels and Antwerp were developed in this new, highly decorative style, and while some of the better examples have tragically been destroyed over the years, many good examples remain.

Looking at these buildings, I was most impressed with the attention to detail and efforts to combine architecture and art. I was particularly taken with the beautiful brickwork, which often combined different colours and patterns, including the distinctive "Flemish Bond," which incorporates bricks of different sizes.As I admired these buildings, I thought about how little additional effort and cost would be required to make our new brick buildings more attractive and decorative. Yes, architects would need to be paid to include additional details on their drawings, and bricklayers would have to pay more attention to the drawings. But just as in Belgium, our brick buildings will likely last for many centuries and they could easily be designed and built in a more beautiful manner. Why, most Toronto brick buildings have more decorative qualities than what we are building!

While the new housing in Belgium is different than what was built centuries ago, looking around Zomergem and nearby towns, I was fascinated by the differences between new Belgian subdivisions and new subdivisions in British Columbia. For one thing, it is not uncommon to see a variety of housing forms and architectural styles in one subdivision. To conserve land, the new housing form is either open, half-open or closed.

Open housing refers to detached, single-family dwellings.

Half-open housing is what we we might call semi-detached or duplex housing, with a common or shared party wall. However, unlike most semi-detached housing built in Vancouver, half-open houses are often designed by two different architects and built by two different owners. The results can be quite extraordinary.Closed housing has shared party walls on both sides, resulting in what we would call townhouses or row housing. Again, homes in the row are often designed and built by different architects and owners, just as they were centuries ago.

In reviewing the local streets and subdivisions, I was surprised by the number of modern designs being built. In Vancouver, most new subdivision housing seems to belong to another time or place. We rarely see small, modern "West Coast" houses being built in subdivisions or on infill lots.

I believe the Belgians are building more contemporary and interesting homes for three reasons:

- They have a desire to be individualistic and to not always conform.

- They have had a longstanding interest in architectural design.

- Architects are usually hired to design a house, even a small, modest house.

Perhaps there are some lessons for us here, too.



Michael Geller is a Vancouver architect, planner and developer and retired university administrator. His blog on Belgium can be found at gellersworldtravel.blogspot.com on the Internet. For more information on house exchanges visit homelink.org.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Michael, you should think about a trip to Japan, where the major home building companies (Toyota Home, Daiwa House, Sekisui House) have been building innovative houses like those you describe in Belgium for quite a while. In addition to design and architectural features, these companies are also incorporating a number of sustainability and earthquake features, such as the "net zero home" from Sekisui House. Presentation centres in the middle of cities featuring one or two houses from each companies in mini "subdivisions" are common.

Anonymous said...

It's a two year degree program, usually divided into five semesters. X-rays and an MRI are recommended to be sure there's nothing more significant going on, like a herniated vertebral disc, or a fractured vertebra.
You will also get the chance to participate in discussions along with your fellow students.
My web blog statistics for depression in children

Anonymous said...

Everything depends on you, on how you react to circumstances and to life in general.
Surwit notes also that: "The change is nearly as large as you would expect to see from some diabetes-control drugs".
If we see the case-studies of patients suffering from depression, the factors that trigger a
severe episode of depression vary from person to person.
Also visit my website - Http://En.Gravatar.Com/Huxicyy

Anonymous said...

I like it when folks come together and share ideas.
Great site, keep it up!

My site :: bankruptcy laws in florida

Anonymous said...

With the help of thiѕ powerful sоftwаre.
Рublicize that part of οur strаtegy whеre I got nothing tο say аbout
thе Philippines transaction. Send a letter from businеss
the company's iconic orange box stores. I love election junk mail - you can just sit back is scandalous.

Feel free to surf to my page :: easy internet marketing

Anonymous said...

While following the paleo diet this can be used as a foodstuff for animals to enrich their eggs and meat,
and avoid processed foods, sugar, flour, ect.


My web blog paleo diet cookbooks

Anonymous said...

Among the many Pay Per Click marketing tools
that can propel a site to look great but are
also important to link internally, as well as highly relevant links.
So, if you don't think their keyword density requirements are reasonable.

Here is my blog post :: search engine optimization books

Anonymous said...

We are a group of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme
in our community. Your website offered us
with helpful info to work on. You've done an impressive task and our entire community shall be grateful to you.

my website: http://naturalcleanseblog.com

Anonymous said...

My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right.
This post actually made my day. You cann't imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

Also visit my page: Where can I buy Enduros Male Enhancement

Anonymous said...

My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different page and thought I might as well check things out.

I like what I see so i am just following you.
Look forward to going over your web page for
a second time.

my site Adorna

Anonymous said...

Fantastic beat ! I would like to apprentice
while you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a blog web site?
The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit
acquainted of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent idea

my blog post - payday Loan

Anonymous said...

And that's the only reason we're in the gym, right. Going from skinny to muscle depends on how you approach and execute your workouts as
well as how you manage your nutrition and
rest. We know that muscle mass tissue repairs by itself
and grows during relaxation durations but snooze is more essential than waking relaxation intervals.


my web blog Power Pump XL

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why but this site is loading very slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end? I'll check back later and see if the problem still exists.


Here is my web blog: Ultra Celeb Diet Review

Anonymous said...

I will right away grasp your rss as I can't to find your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please permit me understand so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

Feel free to visit my webpage - Xength X1 Free Trial

Anonymous said...

Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to assert
that I acquire actually enjoyed account your blog posts.
Any way I will be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you
access consistently quickly.

Here is my web blog - garcinia cambogia where to but

Anonymous said...

I've been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It's pretty worth enough for me.
In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made
good content as you did, the internet will be a lot more useful than ever
before.

Stop by my web blog - Pureberry Max Raspberry

Anonymous said...

I've been browsing online greater than three hours as of late, yet I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is pretty value sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all site owners and bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the net can be a lot more helpful than ever before.

Check out my web-site ... viarexblog.com

Anonymous said...

Home cinema: Home Fun Systems Using a Budget

Feel free to visit my blog :: optoma hd33

Anonymous said...

I read this post fully concerning the resemblance of hottest and earlier technologies, it's remarkable article.

my blog post ... pearl x

Anonymous said...

I am sure thiѕ pοst has toucheԁ all the іnternet vieωers, іts really rеally gоod ρaragraρh on buіlding uρ new blog.


Also vіsіt mу wеbsite: lloyd irvin

Anonymous said...

Do you mіnd if ӏ quοte a couple οf your posts as long as I ρгovide cгedit and sources back to yοur site?

My blog iѕ in the very ѕamе area of interest
as yours and mу usегs woulԁ genuіnely benefit from ѕome of the informаtion you present here.
Ρlеase let me κnow if thіs ok with you.
Тhanks a lot!

Look into my blog post ... online reputation management association

Anonymous said...

Howdy! Quick question that's entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when browsing from my iphone. I'm trying to find a theme or plugin
that might be able to fix this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share.
Cheers!

Take a look at my weblog ... Vimax Results

Anonymous said...

This paragraph is genuinely a pleasant one it assists new net users, who are wishing in favor of blogging.



Visit my site optimum stack (wiki.julius-hacker.de)

Anonymous said...

I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post
was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous
blogger if you aren't already ;) Cheers!


http://baghdad-eye.org/article.php?id=263966

Here is my blog post; Max Thermo Burn Muscle reviews

Sky Credit Financial said...

Do you need Business or personal Loan?
Do you wish to refinance your company?Our company is based in Asia, Africa, and Europe. We give out loan to any individual and company at 3% interest rate yearly. For more information email us at (skycreditfinancialaid@gmail.com) fill in the information:

loan Amount ...........
loan Duration...........
phone number.......
full name........
Have you apply before:................
Monthly
Income:..............
Occupation:................
Gender............
Country...........
State......

With Regard,
Asia Found Aids

Credit Loan said...

My Brothers and Sister all over the world, I am Mrs Boo Wheat from Canada ; i was in need of loan some month ago. i needed a loan to open my restaurant and bar, when one of my long time business partner introduce me to this good and trustful loan lender DR PURVA PIUS that help me out with a loan, and is interest rate is very low , thank God today. I am now a successful business Woman, and I became useful. In the life of others, I now hold a restaurant and bar. And about 30 workers, thank GOD for my life I am leaving well today a happy father with three kids, thanks to you DR PURVA PIUS Now I can take care of my lovely family, i can now pay my bill. I am now the bread winner of my family. If you are look for a trustful and reliable loan leader. You can Email him via,mail (urgentloan22@gmail.com) Please tell him Mrs Boo Wheat from Canada introduce you to him. THANKS

Credit Loan said...

My Brothers and Sister all over the world, I am Mrs Boo Wheat from Canada ; i was in need of loan some month ago. i needed a loan to open my restaurant and bar, when one of my long time business partner introduce me to this good and trustful loan lender DR PURVA PIUS that help me out with a loan, and is interest rate is very low , thank God today. I am now a successful business Woman, and I became useful. In the life of others, I now hold a restaurant and bar. And about 30 workers, thank GOD for my life I am leaving well today a happy father with three kids, thanks to you DR PURVA PIUS Now I can take care of my lovely family, i can now pay my bill. I am now the bread winner of my family. If you are look for a trustful and reliable loan leader. You can Email him via,mail (urgentloan22@gmail.com) Please tell him Mrs Boo Wheat from Canada introduce you to him. THANKS

Dr Purva Pius said...

Hello Everybody,
My name is Mrs Sharon Sim. I live in Singapore and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of S$250,000.00 to start my life all over as i am a single mother with 3 kids I met this honest and GOD fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of S$250,000.00 SG. Dollar, he is a GOD fearing man, if you are in need of loan and you will pay back the loan please contact him tell him that is Mrs Sharon, that refer you to him. contact Dr Purva Pius,via email:(urgentloan22@gmail.com) Thank you.

BORROWERS APPLICATION DETAILS


1. Name Of Applicant in Full:……..
2. Telephone Numbers:……….
3. Address and Location:…….
4. Amount in request………..
5. Repayment Period:………..
6. Purpose Of Loan………….
7. country…………………
8. phone…………………..
9. occupation………………
10.age/sex…………………
11.Monthly Income…………..
12.Email……………..

Regards.
Managements
Email Kindly Contact: urgentloan22@gmail.com

Mrs SMITH STEPHANIE said...

How I Got My Loan From A Genuine And Reliable Loan Company

My name is Mrs SMITH STEPHANIE. I live in Singapore and I am from france and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of $150,000,00 and was scammed by those fraudulent lenders and a friend introduce me to MR IBRAHIM MUSA,and he lend me the loan without any stress,you can contact him at (powerfinance7@gmail.com)

1. Your Full names:_______
2. Contact address:_______
3. Country Of Residence:______
4. Loan Amount Required:________
5. Duration:_____
6. Gender:_____
7. Occupation:________
8. Monthly Income:_______
9. Date Of Birth:________
10.Telephone Number:__________

Regards.
Managements
Email Him at: powerfinance7@gmail.com