In a unique exhibition, the CIVA ((international Centre for City, Architecture and Landscape) presents its architecture archives spanning the period from Art Nouveau to the Expo 58. This instructive discovery tour, which focuses on rarely seen architecture and aesthetics, is a must-see for everyone who loves beauty.
The archives of Antoine Pompe
The exhibition starts with Antoine Pompe. Although unknown by many, this architect – who lived to the ripe old age of 107 – designed Belgian’s very first functionalist building: a physical rehabilitation hospital facility designed in the purest lines, whose glass block windows marked a first revolution at the time. The designer, who had trained in Munich, kept denying his functionalist label – explaining that he favours function over form – as he always claimed that “Architecture is Reason and Sentiment”, explains Yaron Pesztat, curator of the exhibition. Discover Pompe’s drawings for the Art Nouveau style services, a strange piece of furniture called scribanc – between a desk and a bench. The archives found at Pompe’s home unveiled the talent of this contemporary of rational romantic artists, influenced by the English Art & Craft and the Dutch school.
Another section of the exhibition is dedicated to the big Belgian names in Art Nouveau: Victor Horta, Paul Hankar and Ernest Blerot. Inspired by plants, Art Nouveau architecture originated from a desire to break away from past eclectic styles. The relation between levels was revolutionized with a room layout radiating from the stairwell and the introduction of more structural openings to allow natural light to come in. There was also the idea of no longer distinguishing between major and minor arts, which also prevails in the Vienna Secession and Bauhaus. Beautiful wrought iron elements illustrate the styles of Horta in “Dans la fleur, je retiens la tige (I take the stem, not the flower)”, of Hankar (geometric, with Japanese influences) and of Blerot who only takes the flowers. This architectural style managed to seduce the wealthy bourgeoisie who wanted to be progressive and had monumental townhouses designed as total works of art.
Towards the apartment
In the 1920s, developers tried to convince the bourgeoisie, who traditionally lived in houses with three adjoining rooms, to purchase luxurious apartments with all the comforts of private houses: service entrance, circulation respecting their privacy, etc. This trend towards the horizontal would give birth to a new trend: the construction of palaces with monumental facades, which offered incredible luxury, such as the “Palace of mad song”, the Art Deco building of architect Antoine Courtens in Brussels.
In honour of Blaton
Of course, to Belgians the name Blaton is not really synonymous with great architectural achievements but rather with concrete … Nevertheless, the family archive that AAM received in 2013 revealed wonders. Having worked on Brussels’ most important construction sites and even on a bridge project in the United States, the company had plans designed by Victor Horta (which the architect normally destroyed) and of projects for Belgian Congo (which are currently being studied by Ghent University).
Grandeur and Utopia
Leopold II wanted to inspire the Belgian people to open their eyes and take pride in their majestic buildings. At the exhibition, you can admire the dreams of architects, translated into plans that were never realized, yet are true masterpieces. As well as master plans immortalized by renowned photographers like Aram Alban. This exhibition is, by the way, also an ideal opportunity to (re) discover the CIVA.
Treasures of art: from Art Nouveau to the Expo 58
55 rue de l’Ermitage
Until 19 April
Tuesdays to Fridays from 12:00 to 18:00; Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30h to 18:00h