There is a famous saying, ‘every Belgian is born with a brick in his stomach’. The saying is, of course, referring to the universal appeal that exists among Belgians to construct their own houses. The outcome of this appeal is quite obvious when you are making your way through any Flemish suburb. Each house differs from the neighboring house and is a mix of various architectural styles. Hannes Coudenys has been photographing these architectural ‘feats’ for a couple of years now and documenting them in his blog ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’.
According to him, Belgium is like a ‘nightmarish architectural Legoland’. He further says, ‘In Belgium, there’s an overwhelming sense of clutter. It’s as if we first crammed every square metre with buildings before deciding to put in some streets here and there as an afterthought. In Belgium, you can easily find a neighbourhood featuring a dozen different styles within a 100-metre radius. Yet the country is so small that it cannot possibly do them justice. Houses are inevitably bunched up, which means that differences are exaggerated and any individual quality lost in a distracted haze. No one can look at a house objectively when another dwelling in a different style is frantically trying to catch their attention.’
Hannes Coudeny used to live in an ugly house himself. This is because he and his wife had to move because the land was sold to a developer. The blog ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’ was started in 2011 – a time when Hannes was living in his ugly house. He says that it was an ugly but practical house. The blog ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’ has been widely received and struck a chord with its readers. That is when Hannes realized that there are others also who think that Belgium is an architecturally ugly country.
Hannes was encouraged by the comments and ‘likes’ he was receiving. He began posting pictures of ugly Belgian houses passionately until he was sent a threatening letter that accused him of ‘invading privacy and breaking copyright regulations’ and causing ‘damage to their reputation’. Apparently, someone had hired a lawyer and decided to go after Hannes. Afraid of legal battles, he took down the entire blog ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’ and stopped posting. However, after a year, he was in another hideous housing estate, and it led to rekindling of an old flame.
He started the blog again and within a few years, also published a coffee table book titled, ‘Ugly Belgian Houses’. Homeowners can now take down their photos, and according to Hannes, about ten percent of owners do ask for it. Coudenys says, ‘I understand though. People sometimes take it personally when their house is publicly ridiculed, or they are hounded by the press and feel picked on. That’s not nice. One architect told me that someday I would end up with suicide on my conscience because of my bullying. Another accused me of drastically changing his children’s future by making him redundant as an architect. For all these reasons it’s important to be able to communicate in the open.’
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do let us know!