Veerle's Sidenotes A collection of thoughts on subjects of my interest.

March 19 2024
Home & Living

El Gran Canal

If you've been keeping up with me for a while, you're aware of my fondness for wood. This post-modern duplex penthouse in Brussels, Belgium incorporates plenty of it. Its airy atmosphere and a touch of tropical modernism make it a prime contender for being featured here on my sidenotes.

Post-modern duplex penthouse in Brussels, Belgium

Post-modern duplex penthouse in Brussels, Belgium

Post-modern Architecture

The reconversion of two duplex apartments into a penthouse was done by Altu, founded by architect Veerle Van de Walle and engineer-architect Francesca Bonne in 2018. The owners wanted to include a yoga studio in one portion of the first floor. Within the private residence, all components, including the central wall, were removed to declutter, enlarge, and highlight the structural features of the post-modern architecture. The vaulted roof and ceiling, which provide a view of downtown Brussels, now serve as key elements in shaping the redesigned interior and circulation plan.

Sculptural Staircase

In the space formerly occupied by the dividing wall between the two duplexes, they introduced the standout feature of the project: a grand, curved sculptural staircase. This striking design was likely influenced by the tropical modernist aesthetic of César Manrique, the Spanish artist, sculptor, and environmentalist renowned for his transformative work in Lanzarote.

On one side of the staircase lies a void, functioning as a central atrium, allowing natural light to flow freely throughout the entire living space spanning both floors. The top floor features a fireplace, and numerous large planters have been seamlessly incorporated into the staircase, emphasising its intricate design and substantial presence. These tropical houseplants bring nature inside, a sharp contrast with the urban jungle outside.

Strong Concept

The complete interior design, along with the bespoke wooden furniture, was conceptualised by Altu, who also provided guidance on selecting additional furniture pieces and items such as vintage lamps and artworks. One of these are the beautiful wood veneer lamps. This one is called '1003 Hans Pendant'. The warm glow of light filtering through pine veneer combined with an unexpectedly graphic and elemental form is the enduring appeal of this iconic design by Hans-Agne Jakobsson

Postmodernism isn't typically associated with qualities like tastefulness, coziness, or homeliness. However, it's precisely this unconventional nature that presented us with the challenge of creating something contemporary with it.

- Francesca Bonne

The customisation is full of details that you do not immediately notice. Subtle details like the pattern of the wooden screens that is mirrored in the kitchen's cupboard doors, complemented by an 80s-style countertop and porphyry backsplash. Another excellent eye piece would be the custom design of the bed.

Custom made wooden furniture like this bed

Custom made wooden furniture like this bed

With its blue-tiled décor, the bathroom could easily be mistaken for a luxurious retreat at a high-end vacation destination. I admire that they didn’t remove all those typical 80s and 90s elements, like those striking pillars or that typical roof vault. They accepted it and put their own spin on it. Beautiful design work!

March 04 2024

Renault 5 E-Tech

A compact electric car that has generated significant anticipation since its concept debut in 2021 is the new Renault 5. It embodies what I believe the Honda E should have been. Both cars have captured my attention with their impressive designs, eliciting excitement upon first glance. Luckily, they remained faithful to the original concept without significant alterations.

Yellow Pop

Yellow Pop


The body shape not only mirrors that of its predecessors but also integrates several design features that refer to its past. For instance, the daytime running lights draw inspiration from the fog lights of the Renault 5 Turbo, while a charging indicator is situated on the hood, a nod to the location where cold air was once drawn in by a fuel engine in the classic car—a necessity rendered obsolete in modern times.

There are 5 colors to choose from:

  • Yellow Pop
  • Green Pop
  • Starry Black
  • Pearl White
  • Night Blue

Aside from the above you also can choose from a range of options such as two-tone paint, roofline color variations, front roof, and side decorative strips, along with two wheel designs, to tailor the Renault 5 to your preferences. With 200 potential combinations available, you can create a customized look that reflects your individual taste.

Small is Beautiful

The Renault 5 may be compact on the outside, but it still accommodates up to five passengers. With the assistance of parking aids, manoeuvring and parking become effortless tasks. It's the perfect city car for everyday use. The length of the car is 3.92m and it has a boot capacity of 326L. Just what we need, an affordable alternative to the continuously growing large SUVs. Also equally important is its weight, just 1.450kg (3,196 lbs) making it as light as some comparable internal combustion engine cars. Reduced weight signifies a lower energy requirement to get moving, which is advantageous for overall consumption rates.

The seat design draws inspiration from the flame-spewing R5 Turbo, while the fabric used for covering them is crafted entirely from recycled materials. Additionally, certain trims feature dashboards and door panels constructed from recycled plastic. The roofline looks like felt and probably will do wonders for its acoustics. In my honest opinion, a quiet interior is a crucial aspect of an EV that I genuinely appreciate—it can make or break the overall experience.

Technical Details

Upon its autumn market debut, the model will initially be exclusively equipped with the larger 52 kWh battery (net) and the most robust engine, boasting 110 kW. All electric R5s will have an 11 kW AC onboard charger as standard. DC charging up to 100 kW is supported. The fast charging window spans approximately 30 minutes, enabling a charge level increase from 15% to 80% (SoC). Later there also be a variant with a 40 kWh battery, both batteries contain prismatic NMC (Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt) cells from Renault’s battery partner AESC. This all new Renault 5 sits on the so-called AmpR Small platform, intended for B-segment EVs and it will also be the foundation for the upcoming Renault 4.

Starry Black

Starry Black

Inside you’ll also find two 10” screens, one that features the driving cluster and the other one takes on the role of a digital instrument cluster. The operating system is called openR link and has Google built-in: voice assistant, real-time navigation and more than 30 apps. They also launched an avatar called ‘Reno’ which supposedly interacts with the driver and passengers, both inside and outside the car. Because it integrates with the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT, it can reply to questions using basically the whole internet as its source of information.

V2L and V2G

What excites me the most is that this price range (25.000 to 30.000 Euro)  car will also come standard with a new AC bidirectional charger compatible with V2L (vehicle-to-load) and V2G (vehicle-to-grid) technologies. I'm pretty convinced that this pioneering system is set to become widely used. Most cars are sitting idle 90% of the time, making them quite useless. Now this technology will finally give the vehicle an actual purpose. Now it can become a real player in the energy ecosystem through the services of Mobilize, feeding electricity back into the grid when the price is right. As a result, users will enjoy significant savings on their electricity bills. The maximum power output is 3.7 kW.

Thanks to Mobilize V2G, cars become an energy reserve.

- Corinne Frasson, Director of Energy Services at Mobilize

Unfortunately, there is a drawback: this feature won't be available in all of Europe at launch. Initially, Renault 5 owners will only have access to this feature in France and Germany this year, with availability in the United Kingdom scheduled for 2025. I have no idea about Belgium or the rest of Europe.

Made in Europe

The Renault 5 will be built in a factory in Douai (France), with the help of European suppliers less than 300 km away. This car isn't afraid to hide its origin, especially when you'll see the optional baguette holder (made by French basket-maker Marguerite Herlant).

January 16 2024
Home & Living

Clean Air In My Home

In a prior Sidenote, I discussed the significance of ventilation in our homes. This subsequent article addresses the unsettling reality that the air you introduce from outside may not be as clean as perceived. Given its invisibility and predominantly odourless nature, it becomes essential to visualise this by employing a device capable of revealing particulate matter (PM). Particulate Matter (PM) comprises solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, categorized as coarse, fine, and ultrafine.

Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Many people might not be aware, just as I once was, but currently, 98 percent of Europeans are affected by air pollution. The concentrations of particulate matter frequently exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 5 micrograms per cubic meter, with at least two-thirds of the population experiencing levels that are double the recommended threshold.

Particulate matter originates from combustion processes in the exhaust gases of diesel engines and industrial operations. It is also generated through chemical reactions with ammonia in the agricultural sector and the heating of buildings.

'Clean' Diesel & Petrol

There are still individuals and lobbyists who believe/promote that 'clean diesel' exists and that the newer ones with Euro 7 and Euro 6 standard are A ok, so we should continue to use them as technology solved the problems. A quick bicycle ride wouldn’t have to take long to reveal the stark reality of their cleanliness—or lack thereof. Petrol isn’t much better.


The burning of wood is another factor with a notable impact. One can only hope that it is beautifully dried wood and not fiberboard, plywood, painted wood. Trust me, you can detect the difference by the smell.

'Green' Pellets

Oh and let’s not forget the ‘magical’ green pellets. The marketing sounds wonderful. “Burning wood or wood pellets brings us a little closer to nature. It invites us to use energy more consciously. Because heating yourself with wood or pellets is CO2 neutral. It does not produce greenhouse gas emissions”.

The necessity to burn them still contributes to increased pollution exposure by adding more ‘Ultra Fine Particles’. To get a good idea of ​​how small these particles actually are, you need to know that one millimeter is one thousand micrometers and one million nanometers. The unit for the UFP concentration is particles/cm³. The unit for PM0.1 is micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³). Ultrafine Particle (UFP) particles are so minuscule that, upon inhalation, they enter your bloodstream directly and have the potential to cause damage anywhere in your body. See illustration below for context.

How particles enter the human body.

How particles enter the human body.

Every so often, I catch the scent of burning wood through the ventilation system when the wind carries it in the wrong direction, usually when one of the houses in the neighborhood decides to create a ‘cozy’ atmosphere by burning wood. If you ask yourself ‘which type of stove pollutes the least?’ You can find that out on the official site of the Flemish Environment Agency. (article in Dutch but you can translate it)

Premature Deaths

Roughly 300,000 premature deaths within the European Union are attributed to polluted air each year. Additionally, the burden is heaviest on the smallest lungs. Children, who breathe at a rate twice as fast and frequently through their mouths, face increased exposure to air pollution. Their proximity to the ground, where pollutants tend to accumulate, further heightens the risk. More than 90 babies die every week in Europe from air pollution (UNICEF).

A recent investigation conducted by the European Association for Medical Oncology (ESMO) indicates a potential association with breast cancer. While this connection has been proposed previously, a significant 20-year French study, involving thousands of women, now reveals that the risk of breast cancer rises by 28 percent with a 10 microgram per cubic meter increase in exposure to the most harmful dust particles—those smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). This difference is roughly equivalent to the contrast between rural and urban areas in Europe.

In September 2023, the European Parliament resolved to harmonize the EU standards of 25 micrograms per cubic meter with the more rigorous guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the implementation of this adjustment is deferred until 2035, pending an agreement with the member states. The aim is to have no air pollution by 2050 in the interests of public health, ecosystems and biodiversity.

Air Purifier

That's enough introduction to finally address the topic I intended to write about. I felt it was necessary for you to better comprehend the context. As mentioned earlier, the initial step involves using a 'smart' sensor, such as the Ikea product called 'VINDSTYRKA'. This device features a straightforward color scale and a numerical indicator. Once you determine the pollution level, the next step is to purify the air using an air purifier. For now, let's focus on Ikea and discuss the 'STARKVIND'. While I can't guarantee its effectiveness, it is known to be an affordable option. To make it ’smart’ you need to add it to the IKEA Home Smart-app otherwise it’s just ‘dumb’ with a rotary and push button. The reviews are quite good. Just like the other smart products from IKEA, the underlying protocol for this smart air purifier is ZigBee. And that of course opens doors to other integrations. You also have support for Google Home and Google Assistant. There is also support for Amazon Alexa, Siri and Apple HomeKit.

Ikea Vindstyrka and Starkvind.

Ikea Vindstyrka and Starkvind.

I personally own the VINDSTYRKA, but for air purification, I prefer using the AEG AX 9. Although it's pricier than the Ikea model, I appreciate its aesthetic and, more importantly, its effectiveness. I acquired this device before installing a ventilation system, and it used to kick in almost every time I opened the windows. On numerous occasions I had numbers that were in the very poor scale.

While it operates less frequently now due to the ventilation system filters also capturing particles, it still plays a vital role in my home. Indoor activities also generate particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, by burning tobacco, wood and candles and cooking with gas. This device will make it apparent how harmful these activities can be.

Clean Air In My Home

The AEG AX 9 display is straightforward, indicating the current mode and color scale that you are in. By connecting it to an app, you gain access to more comprehensive data such as PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10 levels, humidity, temperature, and TVOC (Total Volatile Compounds). TVOC measures gases emitted by certain solids and liquids, and you can track all the above mentioned metrics over hours, days, and months.

The AEG AX 9 iPhone app.

The AEG AX 9 iPhone app.

Dyson also has the Dyson Pure Cool.

What Else Can You Do?

The biggest of them all is ’Stop burning stuff’.
Walk, cycle or use public transport or share vehicle wherever possible. If you want to reduce the footprint of your food focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local. A must read by Hannah Ritchie. Eat less meat, particularly beef. Personally I only eat meat 3x a week now. When I do, I stick to 100 gram a day rule and it’s mostly chicken. Before I start doing this I consumed meat 7 days a week and in larger amounts. Honestly I’m not missing it at all.

Oudenaarde photo from Unsplash by moon-app .com