Reference : The Museum of Modern Art in Brussels: how 20 years of urban activism can fail
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Unpublished conference/Abstract
Engineering, computing & technology : Architecture
Arts & humanities : Art & art history
The Museum of Modern Art in Brussels: how 20 years of urban activism can fail
Houbart, Claudine mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > Architecture Site Lambert Lombard > Architecture Site Lambert Lombard >]
Cities and Societies in Comparative Perspective - 11th Conference on Urban History
29 août - 1er septembre
European Association for Urban History
République tchèque
[en] urban activism ; urban renovation ; urban heritage
[en] The debate around the construction of the Museum of Modern Art in Brussels in the 1960’s and 70’s is the most revealing illustration of the urban struggle between « the ancients and the moderns”, in which the associations play a crucial part besides the public authorities.

From the beginning of the 1960’s, the implantation of the new building is the subject of numerous discussions where the “Ligue Esthétique”, a very conservative association proceeding from the Social Christian Party, founded in 1953, conflicts with the modernist designs of the Minister of Culture Pierre Wigny. Supporting the idea that the container should reflect the content, the Minister appoints the young architect Roger Bastin, whose project is also supported by the museum curator Philippe Roberts-Jones and the association “Les Amis des Musées”, lead by Count René Boël and comprising art patrons and lovers.

Situated in a very delicate area of the city, besides the 18th century Place Royale and the Palace of Charles de Lorraine, the project plans the demolition of a historical building block occupied by dwellings and shops, and its replacement by a sculptural concrete building indicating the presence of the museum, almost entirely subterranean. This option earns the project the opposition of two more associations, which arise at the end of the 1960’s with very different backgrounds and aims.

The “Quartier des Arts”, composed of members of the industrial aristocracy, politicians and public authorities representatives, is founded in 1967 with the aim of preserving the heritage of the area. Advised by the archaeologist and conservation expert Raymond Lemaire, the association is opposed to the demolition of one of the last ancient districts of Brussels. The ARAU (Atelier de recherche et d’action urbaine), founded in 1969 by the left wing sociologist René Schoonbrodt, fights for the maintain of the housing function of the city centre. The joint action of these very different groups of interest leads to a new version of the project and the giving up of the concrete signal building. But due to the length of the debates, more than a half of the ancient buildings have to be demolished and the other are very strongly restored: neither contemporary architecture, nor ancient heritage has won this urban battle.

If the result of this long story seems today very disappointing as to urban design, the study of its mechanism is, on the other hand, particularly interesting: it reveals, through archival research, the complex relations between public and associative actors, where ideological and political considerations mix with personal – or even familial – relations and the hazards of urban life.
Researchers ; Students

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