Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Buildings that breathe, and fertile fields of Flanders

How do you renovate very old buildings? This was one of the questions I thought about as we wandered around Brugge. Jonathan, Blanka's nephew, is the right one to ask. The company he works for does just that. And it is a lot more complicated than you might think. Builders hundreds of years ago knew how to build to last. In the USA we tend to build things and then after 30 years of so, we just bulldoze them down and build something new.
In historic cities like Brugge they want to restore the old buildings and maintain them as they were when they were built. It turns out that you can't just slap a technologically more advanced cement or polymer on the existing surface and say 'voila!'
The problem with most modern building techniques is that they don't allow the building to breathe. Yes, breathe. If you seal the outside, moisture and mold build up in the walls and damage the bricks and mortar. Jonathan and his company have spent a lot of time researching and finding materials and building techniques that closely replicate what was done 100s of years ago. 
We got to see some of the projects he is working on as well as having a great time at his little home in the middle of farmland not too far from the French border.

Come along and see …

Both of these buildings are going to be restored to their previous glory.
The one on the left will require the most work because it was "modernized"
about 20 years ago with cements that sealed out the weather but in turn
didn't allow the underlying walls to breathe which has caused serious internal
damage. So they first have to undo all the work that was done previously before
doing the real reconstruction. 
Jonathan showed us a number of projects and
enjoys the challenges of bringing these old structures
back to their proud past.
Details like the round window shown here
have in the past been just bricked up (easier and cheaper).
For Jonathan that is the fun part, discovering what the
original builders intended and bring it back to life,
even if it lay hidden for years.
This old 18th century hotel in Avelgem is Jonathan's office.
This proud old hotel first catered to merchants and lords and ladies
that came by coach (the barns are visible to the left behind.)
In the 19th century the train station was build near by and the hotel
thrived. Along came World War II and the Germans used it as
a lookout (it had a tower on the roof).
Now the tower is gone (bombed during the war), the railway is gone, the horses are gone.
After years of neglect, Jonathan's boss bought the building and they
are bit by bit restoring it and using it as their office.

Now for a visit to the fertile fields of Flanders
But first … .
Blanka got real excited when we saw these Belgian voetbal (soccer)
caps as we were shopping for lunch. I think she is showing her
true colors!
No, we did not buy it although it was tempting.
Jonathan lives in the little village of Kooigem, really just a cluster of houses surrounded by lots of farms and fields. In fact his house is right in the middle of the fields.
Jonathan's house is the right most house in the row.
The house is over 100 years old and was build for the farm workers that
worked the surrounding fields that belonged to the big estate.
Back yard. 

Lovely view through the living room window.

right to left: Blanka, Henk,  Jonathan, Jenny
Delicious lunch of cheeses and meats with fresh baked bread.
We have probably had two dozen different cheeses since we arrived
in Europe.
After lunch we took a walk into the village and through lots of wheat and sugar beets.
Cozy little farm in the distance turned into quite a large farm when we
got closer.
As we came near, the little farm opened up into a large court with barns
on three sides, the farm house on the fourth. 
Wisteria flowers are called blauwe regen in Dutch
which translates in English to "blue rain".
Here is someone with a real pot belly! Now you know what
to do with all those flower pots kicking around the yard.