Brutalism: six gems for fans of architecture in Brussels

13 April 2022
Former headquarters of the CBR cement works - brutalist architecture

Once reviled, so-called brutalist architecture has been a major draw for lovers of architecture for several years now. In fact, this very 70s aesthetic, which redefined the face of our cities, has seen a real return to favour. Brutalism was often radically daring. As an architectural style born from modernism, it gave pride of place to raw concrete, geometric forms and clean lines in cities all over the world. Brussels has its fair share of examples of the genre. Here are some of the most beautiful brutalist spots in the capital, for those who are in need of a contemporary architecture fix. Don’t forget your camera!

Home and Studio of sculptor Godefroid Devreese

Here is a house with a radical aesthetic born of the collaboration between an artist and an architect. Originally, 71 rue des Ailes housed the studio of sculptor Godefroid Devreese, built by his friend, the renowned architect Victor Horta. In 1965, another artist, Raymond Huyberechts, moved in and completely re-imagined the space. Together with architect Louis Van Hove, he transformed the original facade into a minimalist, almost blank wall, punctuated by two slender strip windows. The result is simple and effective - completely in keeping with the times! Take a moment to observe the particularly successful combination of raw concrete cornices and beams and wooden features that decorate the ground floor.

71 Rue des Ailes, Schaerbeek | Architects: Victor Horta / Louis Van Hove | Date: 1965

Studio house of the sculptor Godefroid Devreese - brutalist architecture Brussels

Fromer CBR Headquarters

The legendary, bold and eminently instagrammable lines of the former headquarters of the CBR cement works are well-known to urban adventurers. Iconic oval windows with copper-coloured glass cover the entire 9 floors. The glass panes, directly embedded in concrete modules, give this modernist ocean liner of a building, designed by the architectural duo of Constantin Brodzki and Marcel Lambrichs, its unique appearance. The building has already secured its place in history on several occasions, not least in 1980 when it was selected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as one of modern architecture’s most iconic buildings! It has also captured the imagination of many directors such as François Ozon or Jacques Brel for whom it served as a futuristic set. Enthusiasts can even set foot inside for lunch at the trendy Midori Boitsfort, a restaurant which has just opened on the ground floor.

185 Chaussée de la Hulpe, Watermael-Boitsfort | Architects: Constantin Brodzki and Marcel Lambrichs | Date: 1967-1970

Fromer CBR Headquarters - brutalist architecture Brussels

Bibliotheca Wittockiana

A contemporary temple of literature, Bibliotheca Wittockiana is a little jewel of brutalist architecture. A Belgian Architecture Awards winner in 1983, this horizontal block of cast concrete is anchored in the ground and surmounted by a glass facade. Abundant vegetation cascades down its rough, almost monolithic walls and blends pleasantly into the scenery. Imagined as a protective box by its architectEmmanuel de Callataÿ, it does indeed contain a treasure: a unique book museum with a collection of several thousand items, founded in 1983 by the collector Michel Wittock. Inside, between its red-lacquered wooden shelves, you will find precious books, fine bindings and contemporary works of art. Worth a visit for its architecture as well as for its collections!

 

21-23 Rue du Bemel, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre | Architect:  Emmanuel de Callataÿ | Date: 1981.

Bibliotheca Wittockiana - Brutalist architecture Brussels

Etterbeek, VUB campus

Amateurs will already be familiar with the famous "cigar", the futuristic building by architect Renaat Braem which houses the university rectorate, but they sometimes forget that the VUB campus is also home to a few brutalist gems. Among them is the famous Aula Q designed by the Ghent architectural firm Baro. Its cubic blocks, walls covered in grey scales and the raw concrete stairs that frame it are recognisable. Inside are the famous opening halls, which grow from 250 to 1,250 seats thanks to a revolving mechanism integrated in the walls, which play a starring role! The halls embody a rare architectural concept, firmly rooted in then-fashionable ideas about flexibility of space.

2 Boulevard de la Plaine, Etterbeek | Architect: Baro Office | Date: 1976-1977

VUB campus, Etterbeek - Brutalist architecture Brussels

Marais Building

Are geometric motifs your thing? Then head to number 30-50 Rue du Marais for a face-to-face meeting with the offices of BNP Paribas Fortis. Here, the inverted Y-shaped pattern fulfils both an aesthetic and a structural function. This makes the former SLA building one of the best-known examples of load-bearing facade elements made of architectural concrete. It is, therefore, not surprising that Marcel Lambrichs, the architect who designed the building in 1973, is seen as a functionalist capable of great work. What does the facade make you think of? A beehive, anyone?

30-50 Rue du Marais, Brussels | Architect: Marcel Lambrichs | Date: 1973

Rue d'Arlon 53 - 55

These three independent office buildings from 1968 form a single architectural entity. And it owes a lot to concrete! The elongated hexagon-shaped openings with cut edges and the deep, continuous joints of the prefabricated concrete slabs are the main elements which give these buildings their brutalist appearance. On three occasions, the building application was refused and the plans had to be modified. However, architect Jean Verschuere managed to stay close to his original idea. A fine demonstration of perseverance and versatility!

Rue d'Arlon 53-55 | Architect: Jean Verschuere | Date: 1968

Buildings Rue d'Arlon 53 - 55 - Brutalist architecture Brussels

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