So in Flanders, is there legislation about the size of construction spaces?
H.V.: There are regulations, but they can differ from city to city. In the future, we will have to build nearer to each other, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot have more quality of living. And we have to keep in mind that individual space is important, even if the density of buildings is higher.
But this is surely a challenge: to balance comfort and privacy against the constraints of smaller spaces and energy efficiency. How does this influence your work?
H.V.: I think our project Groen Steenbrugge is a very good example. It demonstrates that it can be done. Of course, every project is unique. Using space responsibly, whilst maintaining high quality of design, is a permanent challenge for planning. Plus, alternative forms of housing, such as co-housing projects, transgenerational design, assisted living residences, etc. can provide an answer to this challenge.
What do you think architects could and should do to advance sustainable building concepts?
H.V.: We should advise clients and also inform them. In our office, we typically look beyond the site where the project is planned. For example, if it is a school we have to build, we want to find out what the architectural quality of the surroundings is like, what infrastructure is already there, and which functions are already active on the site. So we can come up with a masterplan which has added value and is more than just building a school.
Another aspect is choosing the materials, of course. Clay, as a natural material, is very popular and often used for sustainable projects – what are the advantages of using this material?
L.V.: We like to use clay because it’s made of natural materials. It is very versatile, comes in different colours and textures, and you can use it to create different architectural styles. It’s a very durable and robust material, which is a unique quality. We also design a lot of social housing where brick is popular for these qualities, and because of its economic benefits. In addition, comfort inside the building is an important issue, and clay has another unique quality which plays an important role in this – it has a high thermal mass. For example, when outside temperatures are fluctuating throughout the day, a large thermal mass inside a building can serve to “flatten out” the daily temperature fluctuations.
So using bricks provides something like a form of natural climate regulation?
H.V.: Yes, because the thermal mass will absorb thermal energy when the surroundings are higher in temperature than the mass, and give thermal energy back when the surroundings are cooler.