Brussels

Inside Art nouveau

Social housing

Rue Marconi 32, 1190 Forest, Belgium

Detail of the façade (photo ca 1990), photo Bastin-Evrard ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Detail of the façade (photo ca 1990), photo Bastin-Evrard ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Façade (photo 2018) ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Façade (photo 2018) ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Detail of the façade (photo ca 1990), photo Bastin-Evrard ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Detail of the façade (photo ca 1990), photo Bastin-Evrard ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Façade (photo 2018) ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Façade (photo 2018) ©urban.brussels. All rights reserved.

Social housing

This is a very interesting construction, as it is one of the few examples of Art Nouveau-style social housing in Brussels. Furthermore, it was built with materials that were unusual at that time. These include reinforced concrete, which was used for its structural elements, and cement, both coarse and smooth, which was applied to the façade.

EXTERIOR

The building is part of a larger complex of three constructions intended for social housing located in this neighbourhood. It consists of four large bays set out over three floors. Its remarkable entrance may have been inspired by ancient Egyptian architecture. Two lotiform columns stand on either side of the door (which is set at a slight angle and recessed), behind a wrought iron Art Nouveau railing. The use of cement made it possible to imitate ancient Egyptian stone sculptures. The lintel resembles outstretched wings, a motif repeated in a simplified form above the window bays.

The railing and all the ironwork on the bays are now completely different, the originals having all been removed and replaced with elements of little interest. The architects who undertook the recent restoration of this building have attempted to find the original ironwork using plans and archive photographs. The façade is majestically finished off with a beautiful contoured wooden cornice, which is original.

INTERIORS

The interiors are modest, as they were intended for a social housing programme. The layout is, nevertheless, interesting for the period. It is markedly rational and already foreshadowed the Modernist housing of the 1920s and 1930s, all built of reinforced concrete. The interior spaces were precisely measured out; each home contained minimally-sized bedrooms, a kitchen and a laundry room leading onto a terrace at the rear. Notably, the architect Léon Govaerts designed a complex ventilation system in the façade between the bays; this is concealed in the niches visible on the façade, which are more than just decorative.

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