Typological framework: Layers of significance

Notwithstanding the heritage value derived from specific applied techniques, materials, decorations or stylistic interpretations, it was found that the inherent value of the building type of an architect's house cannot be retrieved from a micro-scale analysis alone (individual case-study). To fully comprehend the significance and added value of architects’ houses originating from their typological nature, both a macro-scale analysis of the building type on the geographical and typological context and evolution, as well as a thorough assessment of the dual client-designer role on the meso-scale (focussing on the architect's oeuvre and professional context) is of the essence. By combining macro, meso and micro outcomes, four complementary layers of significance for architects' houses were identified which often exceed the scale of the individual built artefact. These four ways in which an architect's house can thus acquire special meaning, are typologically present for every architect's house. Yet, these layers are not equally pertinent or manifest for each case: the specific context and the way in which each architect operates, makes that each architect's house tells a unique story. Depending on the degree to which each layer is elaborated and tangible within a specific house, various additional sets of heritage values can thus be derived for individual architects' houses. The four layers of significance are briefly elaborated below, and can be further explored through the lens of three case studies in the article "Business cards of stone, timber and concrete" in Bulletin KNOB (2/2020). ​

Positioning vis-à-vis clientele

An architect's own house is often the ideal project for the designers to present themselves to future clients. Yet, in order to actually acquire the envisaged future commissions, a well-considered mirroring of the geographical and stylistic wishes of the sought-after clientele is important. Assessing an architect's house through this specific lens offers a unique insight in the local anchoring of architects and in the various ways the architect's house might have had an influence on local architectural developments. Moreover, also consciously adopting a socio-economic position might be even more essential to acquire specific projects. For instance, if the architect is looking for wealthy clients, his house should be located in a richer neighbourhood and meet a certain standard. If, on the other hand, he wants to build for the masses from a social point of view, then living in a castle himself is not very credible. As such, an assessment of the oeuvre also generates a better understanding of the architect's client retention and brings to light new motives behind specific design choices.

Representativeness within the oeuvre

The architect's house very often occupies a special or even pivotal position in the architectural oeuvre. Depending on the context, the architect can make his own choices on a technical, ideological but also stylistic or typological level, offering a unequivocal reading of his architectural intentions and vocabulary. As such, the architect's own house can be considered as the central thread throughout his oeuvre by means of which his other works can be better understood. As a result, architects' houses often recieve a representative but also unique character and heritage value based on both their representativeness and the moment of appearance in the body of work. For young architects, a house for their own use at the start of their careers can allow them to break radically with widely-accepted architectural concepts and to steer their career in an innovative direction. However, the architect who only added his own home to his list of achievements in his forties is no exception either, yet the motives behind the design choices can then be of a very diffrent nature: it can for instance be more family oriented, represent a refeniment of formerly tested principles or fuction as a synthesis of a life-long career. 

Portraying professional context

In the architect's own home there virtually always exists a studio or office besides the private living spaces, often also incuding a reception area for clients. Architects' houses are unlike the home of a doctor, lawyer or artist who has his practice at home, not only functional but also automatically represent a unique reference of his work for future clients. The architect is thus almost obliged to not only personally think about the interior, circulation and plan layout of his house, but also professionally to trigger potential clients. As such, apart from the valuable insights obtained in the organisation of the architectural profession, architects' houses in which private and public spaces are combined can shed a unique light on the commercial strategies of the resident-architects. Even when the architect did not accommodate his official office at home, there are often still elements in the building history that mirror the individual professional context. This often concerns the way in which architects involve their professional network, as more than once, architects call on befriended engineers, contractors, artists and other craftsmen for the construction of their house. Since the architect is this time also the client of the project, the classical relationship and the traditional interplay between the various construction actors changes. Whereas a regular client is not always fully aware of the implications of decisions taken during the design and construction process and is usually not inclined to take risks, a client/designer with a professional background and network has sufficient knowledge to better assess and calculate such risks, can built on a relation of mutual trust between him and the other professionals and a previously agreed price and construction period may become even inferior to the shared ambition to innovate; generation a more experiment-prone context. As such, architects' houses can also offer a unique view on the uncensored professional collaboration between various building actors.

Autobiographical quality of the built artefact

During the design of his own house, the architect can thus must make well-considered choices in the design with regard to the location, the relationship with the clientele and other building actors as well as the position within his own oeuvre. However, as life and architecture is always evolving, a radically modern house that breaks with current trends loses its initial conviction after a few years while changing clientele, a new zeitgeist or a new family situation can also cause the architect to decide that the current house no longer fulfils his current requirements. As such, several architects were found to alter their design of the years, making small (or larger adjustments to their houses). In a rare case, the architect may even radically change the existing house, however a more common way of dealing with a high degree of changing context is to repeat the exercise and to design a completely new house. Thereby, the architects' houses in the oeuvre have an almost autobiographical value which allows to trace the life and career choices of architects.