Belgium is a bilingual and bicultural country, half Dutch, and half French and far more famous for Art Nouveau than for its Art Deco. The greater part of both of these global styles are to be found in its capital Brussels. The truth is that while the Art Nouveau buildings were generally luxury items like the Hotel Tassel and Hotel Solvay of Victor Horta, Art Deco lent itself equally well to apartments as to townhouses, and is far more well represented in the capital.
It should also be stated that while Victor Horta is famous for Art Nouveau he was an exceptionally versatile and progressive architect and made equal contributions to Art Deco. In truth a trip to Brussels in search of either or both styles is sure to be a rewarding experience as there is a lot to see and much of it is delightful and impressive.
Brussels Art Deco Building 1: Flagey
Place Flagey in the Ixelles district is the location of the building originally known as the National Institute of Broadcasting, however the building has somewhat affectionately taken on the popular name of Flagey. Brussels born Joseph Diongre was the architect behind Flagey and he won the contest for its design in 1933, though it was not built until 1935-1938. It is imagined as a ship, first by its considerable size, and secondly by its tower of cylinder shapes which suggests a chimney on a steamboat, or an ocean liner. Today it is no longer dedicated to broadcasting and has become a cultural centre, albeit one with dazzling acoustics.
Brussels Art Deco Building 2: Saint-Augustin Church
In addition to marvellous Art Deco townhouses the Coghen district of Brussels is home to an Art Deco church. The Saint-Augustin Church, a Roman Catholic church that sits on a hill, was constructed with reinforced concrete and completed in 1935. The architects were Léon Guiannotte and André Watteyne.
Brussels Art Deco Building 3: Palais Stoclet
Located on the Avenue de Tervueren in the Woluwe-Saint-Pierre district of Brussels, the Palais Stoclet was created for Adolphe Stoclet, a wealthy Belgian financier. By its time period, constructed between 1905 and 1911, the Palais Stoclet should be listed as Belgian Art Nouveau, but this is a label that does not fit: the building is in fact proto-Art Deco. The architect, Josef Hoffmann associated with the Austrian Secession and the Weiner Werkstätte, had come under the influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who participated in the Eighth Secession Exhibition in 1900.
Mackintosh had moved on from the swirling whiplash curves and flowing exuberance of Art Nouveau and had evolved a rectilinear and geometric approach involving elements such as checkerboards and grids. Hoffmann embraced this new ethos, and by 1905 had introduced other elements that made the Palais Stoclet even more distinctly Art Deco, such as the dense flower arrangements that appeared later in French Art Deco. The tower is another element common in Art Deco, its rectilinear austerity offset by the four male figures, and flowers, at the top. The continuous vertical window for a stairwell has been repeated in countless Art Deco buildings around the world, notably in apartment blocks.
Over one hundred years after its construction the Stoclet family still occupy the building, which has gained protected status from the Monuments and Sites Directorate of the Brussels-Capital Region. Though not open to the public it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.
Brussels Art Deco Building 4: Villa Empain
In a manner similar to the Palais Stoclet, the Villa Empain was designed and constructed for Baron Louis Empain, a wealthy Belgian industrialist, though it was intentionally imagined as contemporary early 1930s Art Deco style. Located at Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67, in Ixelles, it is less a palace than a modern mansion, with an elegant façade and interior designed by Swiss architect Michel Polak, and completed in 1934.
In contrast to the Palais Stoclet, however, Baron Empain hardly spent any time at it and in 1937 he decide to donate it to the Belgian government who used it as a museum of applied arts. Given the richness of the building’s design and the materials used this was an inspired choice. The Villa Empain changed hands many times throughout the rest of the twentieth century but was purchased in 2007 by the Boghossian Foundation who turned it back into a museum and cultural centre.
Brussels Art Deco Building 5: Shell Building
Here are the offices of the Belgian branch of the Shell Company, the Shell Building for short; it occupies an entire block in the central Quartier Royal. It has a two-street address, located at Rue Ravenstein 48-70/ Cantersteen 39-55. The architect was Alexis Dumont and it was completed in 1935.
Brussels Art Deco Building 6: Palais des Beaux Arts
Brussels’ Palais des Beaux Arts, or BOZAR as it is known today, can be found at Rue Ravenstein 23. At a glance from a distance such an institution might be seen as a purely neo-Classical edifice, in its grey stone and with such a detailed surface. Get up close and this mirage will dissolve into a plethora of geometric forms and you will guess that it dates from the 1920’s, which indeed it does.
BOZAR began with another wealthy Belgian, banker Henry Le Boeuf, with help from the Mayor of Brussels, Adolphe Max and the celebrated Belgian architect Victor Horta. Completed in 1929 the building houses exhibition spaces, a cinema and a concert hall named for Henry Le Boeuf, as well as conference rooms. Resident to the concert hall is the National Orchestra of Belgium.
Brussels Art Deco Building 7: Brussels Central Station
We may regard Brussels Central Station as rather late Art Deco, having been completed in 1952, but in fact it was delayed from both World War 2 and World War 1. Plans for its construction to link Brussels-North and Brussels-South stations go back to the beginning of the twentieth century, with Victor Horta gaining the commission in 1910. Though famed for his Art Nouveau buildings Horta’s 1912 designs for the station reveal a startling modernity, and after nearly half a century of delays the final building is not so far off from his original ideas.
Brussels Art Deco Building 8: Citroen Garage
Best known as the Citroen Garage, it was originally a combination of a car factory and showroom. Located in the Yser district, at the corner of Place de l’Yser and Quai de Willebroeck, its towering glassed-in space was constructed in the 1930s to designs of French architect Maurice-Jacques Ravazé, working with Belgian architects Alexis Dumont and Marcel Van Goethem.
After decades of producing and providing automobiles the building was sold in 2015 to the Urban Development Corporation of Brussels with the intention of transforming it into an international cultural centre. Under the Centre Pompidou brand it will house a Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, as well as an architecture centre and public cultural and leisure spaces. After several years needed to convert the building for its new roles it is scheduled to open as KANAL – Centre Pompidou sometime in late 2022 to early 2023.
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