Canal Houses, Ghent, Belgium

The white-plastered façades of the Canal Houses have a tripartite structure reminiscent of Italian palazzi: the ground floor with its own fenestration rhythm and façade cladding is distinguished from the rest of the building; the three storeys situated above are crowned by a pronounced cornice; above this is the fourth storey together with the slightly setback penthouses. The proportioning of the entire complex, the continuous cornice and the clearly visible cantilevered canopies of the penthouses lend the building a strong horizontality, affirming the similarities with Renaissance palazzi. The façade, however, also displays modernist accents referring to the architects’ typical idiom. The dark green steel window frames occupying the entire depth of the massive brick walls are not only equipped with parapets, but are also closed off by means of glass plates. The design of the gigantic concrete canopy – barely ten centimetres thick – which connects the two blocks at the fourth storey level, is clearly part of Robbrecht en Daem’s arsenal of forms. Pierced by rectangular slits, this canopy scarcely provides shelter over the passage to the inner court. The suspended surface functions rather as a catalyst of sensual pleasure. Not only is light handled sculpturally, the contrast effect is clarified as a result: open and closed, negative and positive forms contrast with each other. The massiveness of the building blocks is broken open, so that the careful attention to detail and the slender pillars of the inner court can come to the fore. 
Original Publication: Steven Jacobs, ‘Unforgettable Places’, in Steven Jacobs, ed., Works in Architecture: Paul Robbrecht & Hilde Daem (Ghent, 1998), pp. 59-60.
Client
Ignace Vandenabeele, Canal Properties
Architects
Robbrecht en Daem architecten
Program
apartments and offices
Location
Ghent, Belgium
Date
1993–1997
Status
Completed
Floor Surface
6,750 m2
Team
Paul Robbrecht, Hilde Daem, Sofie Delaere, Hugo Vanneste
Structural Engineering
Bureau Gyselinck
Services Engineering
Bureau Stockman
Landscape
Wirtz International