Cohabitation De Sijs includes cork-lined apartments and shared living areas

Two cork-clad apartment buildings flank a renovated 18th-century building in the De Sijs cohabitation project in Leuven, Belgium, designed by local studio Officeu Architects.

Located on a street corner on the edge of the historic city center of Leuven, the project combines 12 apartments and communal facilities around a central garden.

The De Sijs cohabitation in Leuven integrates an 18th century building

The project, which is shortlisted in the Dezeen Awards 2022 housing project category, is designed to maximize opportunities for residents to connect.

It is named De Sijs after the café that once occupied the central 18th century building, which has been redeveloped as a communal living space and the ‘beating heart’ of the project.

Apartments with cork coating
The apartments have cork flooring

“Three separate building volumes are connected by an L-shaped circulation axis, along which are the entrances to the apartments and communal spaces,” explained Officeu Architects.

“A listed 18th century building in the center of the circulation axis is the main entrance to the project and contains a collective dining area with kitchen, a cozy living space, a fully equipped guest living room, a workshop and a coworking space, becoming the inviting face of the project and the beating heart of collective life,” he continues.

Garden of the De Sijs cohabitation project in Leuven
A garden sits at the center of the site

The slender gabled form of the old cafe stands on the corner of the site, with two blocks of six apartments on either side creating new cork-clad street frontages.

At the rear of the existing building, full-height glazing opens the living and dining areas to the adjacent garden where a paved patio slopes down to a lawn.

De Sijs cork facade by Officeu Architects
Each apartment has access to an outdoor space

Inside De Sijs apartment buildings, residences range from compact studios to three-bedroom duplexes. They are arranged so that each opens onto a patio or balcony facing the main garden.

Cutouts in the front elevation of the blocks create spaces for exterior access stairs, allowing each apartment to have its own front door. The doors are concealed behind a metal wire screen which will eventually accommodate climbing plants.

Co-living space with adjoining terrace
Shared living spaces open onto a patio

De Sijs’ wood and steel structure with simple infill walls was chosen to create easily changeable interiors, and early residents were able to personalize their spaces during the design process.

“A cohousing project is in many ways different from a standard housing project,” said Officeu Architects.

“Collective and personal interests must go hand in hand at all times,” the studio added. “To achieve this, the future residents were involved very early in the design process.”

Wooden ceiling beams and ventilation ducts have been left exposed in the clean white interiors, which are enlivened by colorful tiling.

Panels made from waste cork line the exterior of both buildings, intended to provide softness and warmth to the structures while dampening road noise.

Apartment with exposed beams on the ceiling
The wooden ceiling beams are exposed inside

Cork, which is made from the bark of the cork oak, has become an increasingly popular building material in recent years because it is renewable, strong and insulating.

Other projects that use it as a cladding include Cork Screw House by Rundzwei Architekten and Casa Bonjardim by ATKA Arquitectos.

Kitchen inside De Sijs co-housing by Officeu Architects
Colorful tiling illuminates uncluttered living spaces

Another shortlisted project in the Dezeen Awards 2022 housing project category is Stories in Amsterdam by Olaf Gipser Architects, which also encourages community living.

A nursing dormitory at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok by Plan Architect was also shortlisted.

The photograph is from Stijn Bollaert.

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