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An avant-garde experiment in social housing

After a break of a couple of months, our continuing series about interesting buildings, monuments and sites continues. This time we visit the Ieder Zijn Huis social housing complex on the north-eastern edge of Brussels in Evere. As ever our photographer Alexander Dumarey has provided us with some excellent photographs of what is one of the absolute icons of post war Belgian architecture.

The modernist block was designed by the Flemish architect Willy Van Der Meeren.  In 1952 the then 29-year-old architect was given the task of designing a block of flats for the social housing association Ieder Zijn Huis by the then Mayor of Evere Franz Guillaume. The block would contain 105 flats. The socialist mayor wanted the architecture of the new flats to form a contrast to what he saw as a Catholic dominance when it came to the architectural face of his then still semi-rural municipality and the rest of post-war Belgium. Franz Guillaume was inspired by the French architect Le Corbusier and the Mayor asked him to draft plans for the block.

Le Corbusier turned down Mr Guillaume’s invitation. The Frenchman’s previous negative experiences when he submitted plans for the development of Antwerp’s Left Bank are said to have played a role in his reluctance to submit designs and plans for other projects in Belgium.

It was then decided that the task of designing the block should be then given to Willy Van Der Meeren. Willy Van Der Meeren was already well-known for the revolutionary prototype of prefab housing that he had designed for the European Coal and Steel Community. Although it never went into production, Willy Van Der Meeren’s prototype received much critical acclaim.

However, the Ieder Zijn Huis project was beset by delays. The National Company for Cheap Housing that was to provide finance for the block was not in favour of Willy Van Der Meeren’s modern and revolutionary building methods. Moreover, the cost of construction work in Belgium shot up after the World Fair in 1958, which meant that the budget set aside for the Ieder Zijn Huis project was no longer sufficient.

The first tenants were finally able to move in in 1961.

Willy Van Der Meeren’s plans for the Ieder Zijn Huis block in Evere were experimental and ahead of their time. The entire façade of the block is made up of prefabricated concrete panels into which the windows were already placed. Another point of interest is that there is just one corridor per three floors. The flats above and below the corridor are linked to it directly by steps. This ensures that there is much more movement (and social control than in traditional blocks of flats).

The block was occupied continuously for almost 50 years.  In 2009 it was decided to completely renovate the block. The work started three years later in 2012. The building was stripped down completely. Nevertheless, the renovation was carried out with respect for the original design and the concrete façade panels were replaced by identical (albeit better insulated) panels. Work was completed in 2015 and the block looked as good as it did when it was completed in 1961. The social housing association hopes that the block will be able to provide homes for over 100 families for at least another 50 years.