The project concerned the conversion and reconfiguration of 2 existing light industrial buildings (the administrative office and workshop/ store for an entrepreneur), located within a closed site in the centre of Brussels. The resultant arrangement was a residential dwelling, artists atelier and connecting landscaping, for artist Laure Prouvost and curator Nick Aikens.
Morales Finch were initially approached by U.K architects Adam Khan to act as executive architect for the project, having already developed an initial proposal and begun discussions with the local commune, Molenbeek.
The works were undertaken in two overlapping phases (first house and then atelier) and involved the physical separation of the two volumes, through the partial demolition of one of the buildings, and introduction of shared external landscaping within the space created place, that allowed for connections to be introduced between the two.
The first stage, the creation of a family dwelling, followed the intent of the initial discussions and involved the creation of flexible, interconnected spaces that responded to the clients needs. A series of openings (internal and external) sought to introduce natural light to what were otherwise deep plans or elements of the building tightly bound by neighbouring buildings.
Left undecorated, the clients completed the work through additions such as commissioned wall tiles, and decorative finishes to polished concrete floors that were added as the floors were installed.
The second stage, the creation of an artists atelier, brought with it challenges and an ongoing series of responses to the existing building, as its condition revealed itself. The original intention was to rely upon the buildings perimeter and introduce volumes within it, but had not anticipated the extent of the buildings poor condition. The buildings retention and stabilisation therefore became an exercise in itself via the introduction of a complex arrangement of reinforced concrete beams and columns that formed a web, preventing the further deterioration of the building.
Rather than line the existing building as initially hoped, the project instead became an exercise in deciding how and where to make use of this new concrete skeleton, given the time and consideration that had gone into its construction and the fact that an unexpected but significant element of the budget had been used as a result. The result was a simplified approach that allowed for further adaptation in the future. The overall complexity of the buildings interior was reduced through the introduction of a single, full height volume to the buildings rear. Beneath a shared roof, the remainder of the space available was split into a single ground floor and first floor volume, that was insulated. Internally a simple and consistent approach to the buildings functional programme involved the exposure of all services and fittings in the most cost effective manner possible, ensuring that they could be easily adapted, at limited expense, if and when the clients needs changed in response to either their working practice, or the further internal sub-division of the spaces.
Crucially, one element of the clients initial ambitions were retained, the introduction of a new facade to the atelier that looks inward over the site and adopts the form of the female breast that is a common motif within the clients work.
Forming connections between these two buildings at ground and first floor level, a light weight steel frame created a raised platform, that allowed access between the atelier and dwelling, whilst ensuring natural light reached the full extent of the courtyard below. This courtyard and the garden it bordered, in combination, ensured that the site was able to increase the extent to which rain water could be retained on site.
As a combined development the project represents an increasingly valuable approach to dealing with inner city sites that were once home to either redundant industries, or those not longer suited to such locations. Whilst the nature of existing buildings carries inherent risk in terms of unknown factors and the effects that they can have on budget and programme, the result is undoubtedly something that contributes to the urban and social fabric of the city.
Constructed between November 2019 and December 2021
Photography by Oskar Proctor.