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brick building under construction, trees, blue cranes © KME Studios

A Future Made of Brick: Social Housing in Belgium

Wienerberger’s renovation of a social housing complex in Leuven, Belgium, shows what can be achieved when affordable housing and sustainability go hand in hand.

15.12.2021 7 min

How can a social housing complex from the 1980s be converted into a modern and affordable living space with outstanding energy efficiency? The answer to this question can be found in the re-design of Schorenshof Wilsele in Leuven, Belgium. By the end of 2022, 168 apartments will have been renovated and two new buildings raised. Wienerberger is contributing to this project with innovative products and know-how.

Renovation is key for humans and the climate

The European Union’s Green Deal identifies renovations as an important building block for the future. The building sector is one of the largest energy consumers and causes more than one third of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Energy dissipation is a problem in about 75% of the building stock. The Schorenshof Wilsele project shows how things can be done differently: “With our sustainable brick solutions, we can design almost climate-neutral buildings that meet the latest energy-efficiency and living standards. The renovation will significantly improve the quality of life of the approximately 1,000 residents”, says Nadine Cielen, who manages the project at Wienerberger Belgium. 

With our sustainable brick solutions, we can realize almost climate-neutral buildings that meet the latest energy-efficiency and living standards. The renovation will significantly improve the quality of life of the approximately 1,000 residents.

Nadine Cielen

Commercial Director at Wienerberger Belgium

Energy-efficient through state-of-the-art technology

The Schorenshof Wilsele project combines a variety of measures. The small apartment blocks will be demolished and replaced by modern buildings. The larger apartment blocks will be stripped down to the structurally relevant components and then rebuilt. Different brick solutions by Wienerberger will be used over an area of 6,000 square meters. Together with the construction of new roofs, floors, and exterior walls with enhanced insulation, this will massively increase the energy efficiency of the building envelope. In addition, a flexible ventilation system, a central boiler with a local heating network, heat pumps and solar panels will be installed.

brick building under construction, trees, blue cranes
Executing a project from A to Z: How the Wienerberger team renovates a social housing complex in Leuven, Belgium.
© KME Studios

Lower costs, healthier housing

The renovation will save tenants a great deal of money. Due to the improved energy efficiency, monthly costs will decrease – a factor that is significant in view of rising energy prices, especially in subsidized housing. Brick is a building material that cools in summer and preserves heat in winter, and it also improves the indoor climate. As a natural and therefore pollutant-free resource, it has a positive effect on air quality and thus on the health of those living in the buildings.

Nature also benefits: Due to their long service life of 100 years, houses with brick facades are the most ecologically sound construction method. More than 90 percent of bricks are recycled at the end of their service life and for the most part used as recycled material. Bricks thus meet all the requirements of a functioning circular economy. In addition, they are a valuable regional building material and secure local jobs and added value.

Graue Ziegelfassade, blauer Himmel © KME Studios

Eco-Brick: Slim Wienerberger solution saves energy

Special facing brick solutions are being utilized in the Schorenshof Wilsele project: the extra-slim clay facing brick – Eco-Brick – already requires less energy for its production than conventional bricks. Thanks to its natural properties, the Eco-Brick regulates the indoor climate and reduces the heating requirement by up to one tenth. In addition, builders gain up to 5 centimeters of extra space that can be used for additional insulation or more living space.

A new face for Schorenshof Wilsele

The redesign will connect the previously closed off area with its surroundings. “It was important to us to upgrade the entire area and create a place where people enjoy spending time,” explains architect Gert Standaert from the architectural firm A33 ARCHITECTEN, who was very much involved in the redesign of the social housing complex. Thus, a park will be created between the buildings, and cars will be banished to the periphery of the area. A square invites people to linger and serves as a connection to the city center. On top of that, a new community center is being built.

“In our search for a robust facade material, we came across the Terca facing bricks by Wienerberger: The chosen color – silver-gray – harmonizes perfectly with the greenery in the park. Its slight irregularities create an interesting relief,” says Standaert. In addition, the facades are durable, low-maintenance and colorfast, and offer optimum weather protection.

Gert Standaert stands with folded arms in front of gray columns
Gert Standaert is an architect with the architectural firm A33 ARCHITECTEN and played a leading role in redesigning the social housing complex.
© KME Studios

In three stages to greater climate protection

Construction at Schorenshof Wilsele will take place in three stages. After the renovation of the first 120 apartments, another 48 apartments will be renovated until the end of 2022. This will be followed by the demolition and reconstruction of two apartment blocks for which Wienerberger facing bricks will also be used.  All apartments will be awarded the “BEN“ label. For its outstanding sustainability performance, the project received funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The City of Leuven, whose goal is to achieve climate neutrality by 2030, also supported the project.

For developer Dijledal, the Schorenshof Wilsele project is a success: In Belgium, the need for affordable housing is growing. “In this project, all partners are working towards one and the same goal. It is impressive to see how such a large and significant construction project can be realized,” says Christophe Stockman, Chairman of Dijledal. The social housing company manages just over 3,000 houses and apartments in Leuven and the surrounding area. 

Christophe Stockman on balcony in apartment complex
Christophe Stockman has been CEO of Dijledal, one of the leading social housing companies in Belgium, since 2019.
© KME Studios

Projects like Schorenshof Wilsele are proof that sustainable living does not have to be the preserve of higher-income groups. A high quality of life and efficient energy standards can be achieved for everyone!

Note: You can read more about this and other Wienerberger success stories  in the: World of Wienerberger 2020 – Magazine.

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