Belgian digital creative and tv-maker Hannes Coudenys made an interesting overview of self-designed houses in Belgium in his book Ugly Belgian Houses, don’t try this at home. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, ugliness too. But in a strange manner these houses are unmistakeably Belgian, original and inherent.
It all started when Coudenys published one photo of an architectural monstrosity online in 2011. That triggered so many reactions, both positive and negative, that he decided to go on with it. The Facebook page now has more than 55,000 likes and on Instagram the Belgian houses have thousands of followers.
And now there is the book Ugly Belgian Houses, don’t try this at home. Not just a collection of ugly constructions, but also a reflection on the sometimes surrealistic spatial planning and architecture in Belgium. The book also tests your own judgement about beauty and ugliness and shows above all that so many people have so many different desires. The book offers furthermore contributions by a host of professionals including writer and journalist Peter Swinnen, architect Charles Holland (FAT Architecture) and artist David Helbich.
In Belgium it has been made easy to design and build, with the help of an architect, your own house on a piece of land. This resulted in this particular architectural hodgepodge that catches your eye the minute you enter the country. And yes, one could think of it as ugly.
But on the other hand it also is very democratic. There is no aesthetic dictate imposed from above like in many other European countries. Flipping through the pages of this book you can’t help laughing. The book amazes and surprises, and demonstrates the huge feeling of freedom the Belgians experience to create what they desire – well, within the boundaries of their financial possibilities of course. That’s what makes these ‘ugly houses’ in fact an important cultural heritage. For which ‘original’ and ‘unconventional’ might be much better denominators than beauty and ugliness.