This exhibition, designed for all ages and including children, aims to make a broad public more aware of the architecture and town planning of Brussels through a fun scenography combining educational games and a wealth of documents – plans, drawings, models, old photographs – drawn from the Archives d’Architecture Moderne (AAM) and private and public collections. On the programme: An interactive and educational discovery of the city and its components – shops, schools, houses, leisure sites, offices – divided into four thematic sections: Housing, Learning, Work and Leisure.
In 1865 the City of Brussels had the idea of transforming the city centre by building major boulevards lined with apartment buildings, as in Paris. But the Bruxellois had little taste for apartments and preferred, for the same price, to live in a pretty house with a garden in a leafy neighbourhood such as Saint-Gilles, Ixelles, Schaerbeek or Uccle.
At the end of the 19th century, the architects Victor Horta and Paul Hankar each built a house in a style that remained very much in vogue among the people of Brussels for more than a decade: Art Nouveau. A style characterised by distinctive curved lines and shapes inspired by nature.
The 1914-1918 war changed the thinking of architects completely as they turned their attention to rebuilding the towns devastated by the war and building garden cities and social housing.
After the Second World War they looked to the United States for inspiration and more and more people owned a car. Detached houses were built on the city outskirts, single-storey homes with a garage and garden.
Today, the growth in the city’s population (1,140,000 inhabitants in 2011) is bringing a further challenge to Brussels.
The city is a place of knowledge and learning. Schools, swimming pools, libraries, museums and other infrastructures have all evolved since the 19th century in line with standards of hygiene and principles of education
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century brought population growth and an increase in the number of schools. Hygiene measures and educational requirements went hand-in-hand: schools were insulated against outside noise and access to the classrooms was by way of a porch to intercept air from the exterior. The materials used in the facades were preferably those of the country and the building appearance was simple, without luxury or unnecessary ornamentation.
In the early 20th century it was suggested that schools should have a certain elegance, be of cheerful appearance and integrated into their environment. The covered playgrounds tended to increase in size over time: they were built as interior courtyards and served simultaneously as cloakrooms, gymnasiums and access corridor to the classrooms. Schools were now being designed with the desire to create a space conducive to the development of the pupils.
In the past, breweries were a major source of employment in Brussels. Today, 30% of the city’s working population are employed in offices. Forty thousand people work in the “Northern Quarter” alone.
The Brussels retail sector – small local shops, luxury stores and shopping centres – is also a major economic sector, employing 15% of workers (about 100,000 people).
Many of those who work in Brussels are commuters, travelling into the city daily from their homes elsewhere
Sites designed for leisure activities, such as cinemas and theatres, have a special architecture, one as beautiful as it is mysterious. They bear the signs of various eras and styles of architecture (neoclassical, Art deco, etc.) and many of them have received a new lease of life: cinemas converted into shops, ballrooms into conference centres, etc. Others have survived the ages almost unmarked, transporting us back to the time when Brussels brussellait (spoke the local dialect), such as the Théâtre royal de la Monnaie or the Eldorado cinema.
As it was expensive to travel, the decors of these sites present views of European cities or of African landscapes.
At the centre of the “cite des enfants,” the mini-museum regularly focuses on a particular subject linked to the city and its urban heritage – the parks, swimming baths, flower motif in the architecture, etc.
Throughout the exhibition, games are available for children as an aid to discovering architecture, its vocabulary and its styles: a giant model of a Brussels house lights up when they find the term for its various components (bull’s eye, cellar light, shoe scraper, window frame, etc.); suspended chairs from different periods allow them to observe the various styles; school materials from five previous generations reveal the teaching methods of the past; models of Brussels tower blocks to be ordered from the smallest to the biggest as a means of illustrating how the city evolved, etc.
The exhibition ends with a section on heritage trades and the related materials. From stone-cutting to ironwork and including sgraffiti and stained glass windows, the public discovers the small heritage of the built environment through some remarkable examples, documents and videos as testimony to the know-how of these craftsmen. Here too children are invited to play games as they learn how to recognise various materials and the tools used by the craftsmen.
Aimed at a broad public, the exhibition gives visitors the chance to discover in an original way the architectural wealth and diversity of Brussels.
Fun and interactive guided tours are organised regularly for families, schools and other groups.
This exhibition was produced by the Fonds pour l’Architecture with the support of the Minister-President for Monuments and Sites and the State Secretary for Town Planning of the Brussels-Capital Region.
Anne-Marie Pirlot, assisted by Bertille Amaudric and Jacinthe Jigou
Michel Bries for Mandragore
With the support of
Brussels-Capital Region, Town Planning and Housing Department, COCOF, Philippe Rotthier Foundation for Architecture, Léon Eeckman, CIVA Foundation