Today’s the national day of Belgium and helicopters, presumably involved in the celebrations, have been flying almost non-stop over my neighbourhood since the morning. Today also marks the end of the 20-year reign of King Albert II as he abdicates his throne to his eldest son, Philippe, who will be the seventh Belgian king. But I’m not going to write about the national day festivities or the crowning of the new king.

Instead, inspired by yesterday’s ‘urban safari’ in Charleroi – a former mining city in the south that is known as the “Detroit” of Belgium – I thought I would write about Brusselization (in English) / Bruxellisation (in French). This term is used in urban planning and architecture to describe the indiscriminate destruction of a city due to poor planning and is named after the unfortunate phenomenon that took place in Brussels following the approval of the Belgian Town and Country Planning Act in 1962.

Spanning across the 1960s and 1970s, modern high-rise buildings were introduced haphazardly into gentrified neighbourhoods. Older buildings – including the impressive Art Nouveau-style Maison du Peuple by Victor Horta – were destroyed with no regard to their historical and architectural importance to make way for generic office and apartment blocks, as well as boulevards and tunnels. This construction-and-demolition spree has its roots in the 1958 World Expo and was exacerbated by Brussels’ role as the centre of the EU and NATO as the city prepared for the influx of eurocrats by building more housing and office space, and high-capacity transportation infrastructure.

Below is the view from my room at the Sheraton hotel in Place Rogier, where I stayed for more than a month before I moved into my apartment in 2011. Place Rogier, which is minutes from Gare du Nord and from one of the main red-light districts in Brussels, is surrounded by exactly such generic high-rise buildings which constitute the city’s main business district.IMG_5064-65sIn the middle of this photo, you’d see la Cité administrative de l’État (Administrative City of the State), which was in the process of being demolished and all of the windows had been removed. Started in 1958 and completed in 1983, the construction of the complex was part of the Brusselization phenomenon. The last government offices moved out of la Cité administrative de l’État in early 2000 and the complex had remained empty since and is considered to be an example of useless major construction projects – commonly referred to as ‘grands travaux inutiles’ (GTI) in French, according to Belgian journalist, Jean-Claude Defossé. The building to the right of the image with the outline of the Bauhaus symbol formed using broken windows, an artwork by a Polish artist, is part of la Cité administrative de l’État complex. The vehicles in the foreground were either entering or exiting the ‘Ring’, a circular underground tunnel constructed around the centre of Brussels.

Here are some photos that I took around la Cité administrative de l’État in 2011.Place du Congrès - dipytch Place du Congrès05 Place du Congrès07P160NCThe falling fox looked like it was going into the mouth of a dinosaur (which was in fact the shadow of the statue in the nearby square)!Place du Congrès08P160NCAfter I get through with the naming and editing of the photos from Charleroi, I shall post something about it as it was a really interesting and insightful tour and experience! Meanwhile, here’s a good video clip introducing Belgium’s urban ‘ruins’ with a brief reference to Brusselization. I’m guessing that the unidentified coal factory is in Charleroi!

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14 replies on “Brusselization // Bruxellisation

  1. My first reaction when I saw a pic of Maison du Peuple in a book in the Horta museum was to search immediately for the address… I simply had to go find this fantastic artwork… only to read further and realise it’s gone and replaced with that ugly generic construction I passed by so often (I lived in the area when I first came to Brussels). Alas, Brussels is not alone… Athens has suffered similar fate… only on a larger scale.

    1. I first learned about la Maison du Peuple when I had just moved to Brussels: We got passes to the Art Nouveau + Art Deco biennale and was visiting a building that was built by Victor Horta near rue Haute and the guide was lamenting about the destruction of la Maison du Peuple. By the way, if this is not already on your calendar for October, the biennale is taking place this year, so at least we would get the chance to marvel at the beauty of those buildings that have been spared the fate of la Maison du Peuple 🙂

  2. This was so interesting (and sad). I had never heard of this term before you mentioned it on my blog; thanks for teaching me about it!

    1. You’re most welcome. Fortunately there are still many historical Art Nouveau/ Deco buildings that are protected and kept in good conditions in Brussels – which are great to explore!

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