The first thing you notice is the garden. Behind the road and sidewalk, a variety of new greenery frames the community, with pedestrian walkways and a small children’s playground nestled among the bushes, tall grasses young trees. And beyond the plantings and play structures? An elegant community of 22 affordable homes.
Designed by Studio Farris Architects for developer De Ark, the new social housing complex in the 9,000-resident Belgian municipality of Dessel sits at the heart of the Benelux region’s economic engine, the Dutch-speaking Flanders region. Belying the quaint local ambiance, however, the region also faces an acute housing crisis, defined by rapidly increasing home prices and a dearth of affordable dwellings.
For Studio Farris founder Giuseppe Farris, the challenge of integrating much-needed new homes into the community necessitated sensitivity to context. And while the infusion of greenery and pedestrian space does much to weave the 8,000-square-metre site into its surroundings, the variety of textured brick frontages creates a varied — yet coherent — setting. “The project is inspired by the idea that social housing can enjoy variety, richness of nuance, that is not normally found in the standardized, serial solutions of low-cost housing,” says the Italian-born architect.
Organized as a staggered cluster of seven house-form buildings, the project features a range of housing types. Well suited for larger families, the community’s six two-storey townhouses each contain some 119 square metres of living space. Meanwhile, the remaining 16 apartments comprise two unit types, with floor plates of 92 square metres and 78.5 square metres respectively. And while the interiors all feature similar (and spacious) layouts, the staggered configuration of forms lends each volume a distinct identity.
The sense of individuality is amplified by the varied brick hues that define each volume, with an interplay of natural tones — ranging from light grey and buff brick to a rich, earthy brown — creating a sense of rhythm across the facades. Perforated brick openings break up the rectilinear massing along the second-storey balconies, while the simple wood-finish garage entries along the ground floors add another note of texture, already taking on a subtle patina just months after the project’s 2022 completion.
An adaptation of the Flemish flat-roof housing vernacular, the Studio Farris design introduces a variety of affordable dwelling types to the region. But the contextually attuned, heritage-inspired buildings are also designed with sustainability in mind. A rooftop rainwater collection system channels the precipitation for use in toilets, washing machines and backyard gardens, eliminating the need for a sewer system. As for the rest of the rainfall? The lush new streetfront landscape welcomes the deluge.
Lead image by Martino Pietropoli.
Antwerp’s Studio Farris Architects design an ecologically sensitive community of 22 affordable homes.