If you happen to live in Belgium, you can’t escape the Art Nouveau architecture all around the cities, most of it in Brussels though. The buildings are old, yet beautiful and intricate, to say the least. The Art Nouveau style has its roots in Brussels, started by two legendary architects – Paul Hankar and Victor Horta. Interestingly, both of them worked on a building each from 1890 and they were completed in 1893, simultaneously. The Art Nouveau wave lasted from 1890-1910 and was replaced by the modern and austere Art Deco. It sounds amazing that Brussels still retains more than 500 Art Nouveau style buildings, the one I live in might be among them too, it’s from 1900! The key features of Art Nouveau architecture were to deviate from traditional styles and build windows/doors/balconies/facades inspired from nature. You can see waves from the ocean, leaves and branches from trees, animal motifs and colourful facades with golden murals called Sgraffito.
We did a photo walk of a few such houses in Brussels. Do take a look at the photos if you’re interested, each of them has a story to tell.
Tassel House – By Victor Horta, 1893
This is one of the first Art Nouveau houses to be completed in Brussels. Victor Horta was commissioned to design this mansion for his friend, the engineer Emile Tassel. It is a world Heritage site now, declared by UNESCO. The first unique point to be noted is the central position of the door. Prior to this era, doors would be positioned on a side. Do you see the bow-shaped facade and floral designs on the wooden door? Those are signature motifs from Victor Horta. I love these doors so much that I’d do a separate post for my Doors series.
Hankar House – By Paul Hankar, 1893
Simultaneously completed in 1893 by Paul Hankar as his private mansion, this building is a great example of polychrome effects – you can spot red bricks, blue stone, pink stone and golden murals. What struck me the most about this building are these murals called sgraffito, they were created by Adolphe Crespin and are Japanese-inspired. Particularly interesting is the horizontal position of four small decorations depicting four times of the day – Matin (Morning), Jour (Day), Soir (Evening) and Nuit (Night). Zoom in the image below and you can see four different birds for the four times in a day!
Hotel Otlet – By Octave Van Rysselberghe and Henry Van de Velde, 1894
The Otlet Mansion was for lawyer and socialist Paul Otlet. It was worked upon by architect Octave Van Rysselberghe and art theorist Henry Van de Velde.
This one has an asymmetrical stone façade and a little line of sgraffiti at the top. I liked the huge windows and the beautiful door.
Maison Les Hiboux – By Edouard Pelseneer, 1899
Maison Les Hiboux
Maison Les Hiboux or The House of Owls is extremely aesthetic to look at from a distance. The red brick façade, metal frames on a circular window, two owl statuettes at the top of the building and the prettiest sgraffiti of two owls makes this a great example of all Art Nouveau features.
The Solvay Mansion – By Victor Horta, 1900
Another masterpiece by Victor Horta – The Solvay Mansion was designed for wealthy industrialist Armand Solvay. The façade has a huge balcony for the main floor with intricate windows and that lovely door again! The interior contains a Pointillist painting by the famous Théo Van Rysselberghe, though the house was closed during lockdown and we couldn’t visit it.
The Ciamberlani Mansion – By Paul Hankar, 1900
The façade of this building is huge and was designed by Paul Hankar. The sgraffiti was designed by Symbolist painter Albert Ciamberlani and executed by Adolphe Crespin. There is a spectacular fresco in the middle which is characteristically symbolistic. It represents both the cycle of nature (from summer to winter) and the human life cycle. On the right, we see a family and a young child, in the centre, a tree, a beehive and a man standing erect in the prime of life and on the left, an old man at death’s door. I don’t know how the building is used these days, but there seems to be a flag of Argentina there!
The Hannon Maison – By Jules Brunfaut, 1900
A sprawling mansion at the corner junction of two streets, this is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The windows are huge, asymmetrical , there are many balconies, the door is usual and looks majestic. This is the only Art Nouveau building designed by Jules Brunfaut. Do you spot a face in the balcony? There is a pair of eyes, a crooked nose, a cute moustache and a pair of lips.
Maison Beukman – By Albert Roosenboom, 1900
Designed to be his private residence by architect Albert Roosenboom, there is a remarkable sgraffito on this building. Roosenboom was a student of Victor Horta. Notice the bow window and the golden mural featuring a female face; her eyes are closed and one of her index fingers is placed in front of her lips, as in the gesture for silence. Two children appear to be leaning on the gutters.
Maison Horta – By Victor Horta, 1901
Private residence and studio of one of the greatest architects in the world – Victor Horta, designed by him in 1901. This is a double building and there are signature bow windows, ornate balconies and amazing designs on doors by Horta. I’ve heard that the interior is stunning, sadly you can’t click photos inside.
Maison Saint-Cyr – By Gustave Strauven, 1903
Within 100 m of where I live now, this is my absolute favourite. The building is just stunning and you can see the innumerable intricacies in designs. The building was commissioned by artist Georges Léonard de Saint-Cyr and designed by Gustave Strauven. The façade is straight and narrow but very flamboyant. The whole is topped with a decorative crown of sculpted stone and wrought iron, concealed behind which is one of the first roof terraces in history.
Rue Africaine 92 – By Benjamin De Lestre, 1904
Rue Africaine 92
Ah, this building sadly is unnamed. But it is a beauty with that huge circular window that was pretty unusual at the time. And of course, the carefully done wrought iron frame on the door. Note the motif that is repeated throughout this façade, both in the ironwork and on the sculpted white stones: a circle, below which hang three vertical lines.
Maison Cauchie – By Paul and Lina Cauchie, 1905
Private residence of architect Paul Cauchie and his wife Lina, designed by him in 1905. It proclaims the motto of the property loud and clear: “By Us and for Us”. Come closer and note the two sgraffiti panels, which present a list of the couple’s skills. The building contains blue stone, which was perhaps more expensive during the era as it is rarely seen. The sgraffiti features female figures representing Architecture, the Fine Arts and the Applied Arts.
I hope all this makes some sense as I don’t know architecture a bit, but love the designs, colours, contours and above all, the creativity of these artists.
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