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Ugly Belgian Houses

There is a near universal appeal among Belgians to build their own house, which is reflected in the popular saying—“every Belgian is born with a brick in his stomach.” The result of this becomes obvious when you drive through any Flemish suburb. Every house is different from its neighbor. Worse still, every house is a hotchpotch of different architectural styles.

It’s like a “nightmarish architectural Legoland”, says Hannes Coudenys, who has been photographing these architectural shambles for the past several years and documenting them in his blog Ugly Belgian Houses.

Ugly Belgian Houses

“In Belgium there’s an overwhelming sense of clutter,” Coudenys wrote in The Architectural Review. “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 Coudenys lived in an ugly house himself, before he and his wife was forced to move when the land was sold to a new developer. Coudenys started his blog in 2011, at a time when he was still living in his ugly house—a semi-detached house from the 1960s, which he and his wife renovated. It was ugly, but a practical house, he says.

Coudenys’ blog struck a chord with his followers, and he realized that he was not the only one to find Belgium an architecturally ugly country. Encouraged by visitor comments and “likes”, Coudenys started posting pictures of ugly Belgian houses with enthusiasm until someone hired a lawyer and sent him a threatening letter accusing Coudenys of “invading their privacy and breaking copyright regulations” and causing “damage to their reputation.”

Ugly Belgian Houses

Fearing legal retribution, Coudenys took down the entire blog and stopped posting. One year later, when Coudenys found himself in yet another “hideous housing estate”, it rekindled the fire of the idea that never completely went out.

Coudenys restarted the blog and a few years later, published a coffee table book by the same name.

Coudenys now allow home owners to take down their photos, and about ten percent of owners make that request. 

“I understand though,” says Coudenys. “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 a 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,” he adds.

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

Ugly Belgian Houses

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