As part of Open Oproep 17, a call for tenders by the Flemish Chief Government Architect, JSA has been selected to make a plan for 112 social housing units on the Drijhoek site in Geel. It is a peri-urban site on the future ‘green main axis’ leading to the town centre. There are currently four residential tower blocks with cellars, spread over the site. This is not an optimal use of the abundant public space and does not adequately suggest a green, park-like setting. Likewise, we believe that a design based on urban villas, such as described in the call for tenders, would not imbue the site with the desired character.
Our proposal introduces a model in which the buildings are clustered around a number of collective courtyards. This is a typological reference to the rural archetype of the farmstead and a solution to the problem of creating diversity in the public space. The design calls for buildings of various sizes with impressive roofs, facing a shared courtyard, with private balconies on the outer side looking out over the surrounding park-like landscape.
The design also provides for the reuse of three of the four half-sunken cellar areas, which can be expanded to provide some of the parking for the residents. For both compositional and practical reasons, the new blocks will be grouped around the remaining cellars of the demolished towers. These cellars will be covered with new roofs, which will form part of the surface of the courtyards and will be multifunctional. For instance, they could provide space for a play area with a sandbox, a petanque court with benches, or an herb garden with picnic tables. Reusing the existing cellars is also an attractive option for reasons of sustainability; why discard what we can recycle?