• 20. Architects' blueprint, 8

    In this project, De Koninck resumed the approach he had initiated in his own house.

    The program is accommodated within an almost cubic volume which is the same width as his own house (8.5 meters) on the side facing the street, but 1.5 meters deeper, and one story higher.

    The plan is fundamentally simple, consisting of an approximate square measuring 8.5 by 9 meters, sub-divided into four “squares” of equal size.

    A reinforced-concrete column placed at the geometric center of the house represents its single internal support.

    On the ground floor, three of the squares are set aside for functions requiring a certain amount of isolation: the kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. The dining room is housed in the fourth square, which forms a double-height space that provides the necessary six-meter-high wall and extends, on the upper level, into an open L-shaped space covering the three squares below it.

    Far from imposing a static arrangement, this clear, straightforward geometric layout is the foundation of a dynamic, living interior or, to use Hoste’s words of 1918, the apparent embodiment of architecture as a “fundamentally spatial art”.

    The success of the space is due to De Koninck’s skillful articulation of the volumes and refined methods of handling light. He developed the layered interior space into a stepped composition, this time manipulating the section, rather than the plan.

    On the ground floor, the dining room extends into a small, low-ceilinged living area, which projects barely a meter beyond the main volume and opens onto the street through a large picture window bay. The set-back, low position of this window the only opening in the split-level pace results in an indirect light which has the effect of “dematerialising” the massive, overhanging wall, creating the sensation that the whole space is unfolding towards the exterior.

    Going one step further, one could say that this window is like the embouchure that produces a deep, pure sound through its precise positioning in the resonance chamber.

    Upstairs, one encounters the inverse effect in the library, which occupies the whole length of the wall, forming an enclosed 4-metre-high volume capped with a large picture window bay. The ceiling contains a slightly raised panel of translucent glass blocks which radiates light when the sun is shining. Together, these two counterpoints the living area downstairs to the left and the library upstairs to the right combine to create a dynamic equilibrium. As one climbs the stairs the effect of the double-height wall decreases as the radiant right above the library increases, counterweighting which provides a particular striking example of what De Koninck himself called “the art of balancing solids and voids”.

    And, contrary to what this academic terminology might suggest, De Koninck’s goal in his house was to create not a new form of symmetry but rather an asymmetrical balance, a harmony of opposites. It is this balancing of mass and light, of high and low, of the visible and the concealed, which animates the space and makes it dynamic. In spite of the orthogonal rigorousness of the formal vocabulary, the space takes on both a vertical and a diagonal movement, curving and extending beyond the split level area and opening out into the panoramic window in the studio.

    This complex dynamic is not confined to the interior but also finds direct expression on the exterior mass, which is divided into four, like the plan, clearly reflecting the different functions within. Above and to the left is the glass-roofed library volume, which projects slightly forwards from main volume with the enclosed double space. Below and to the right is the corner window of the living area, which is covered, like the window in the library, with a Wrightian roof a dematerialised and “floating” concrete slab that extends into the left quadrant to form a canopy over the front door. Slightly recessed to one side of the door is a small volume, evidently a toilet cubicle, tucked under, but apparently supporting, the library. The shifted axis of the front door, which corresponds exactly to the staircase, is the fulcrum for the asymmetrical balance of both the façade and the interior, gathering together all of these autonomous, even opposing plastic elements the voids and solids, projections and steps to create particularly expressive image, an asymmetrical, if you prefer, cubist face, which clearly speaks of the coherence of the interior organization.

    Text by Francis Strauven, doctor of Architecture and teacher at the Institut Supérieure d’Architecture, Belgium. Extract taken from the book “Louis Hermann De Koninck, Architect of Modern Times, published in 1989 by Maurice Culot and the Archives of Modern Architecture

    23.b. complete set of plans for approval 1926