‘Victor Horta is a world renowned architect who was born in Ghent in Belgium, but lived most of his life just south of Brussels city centre in the affluent and pretty neighbourhood of Ixelles’
Known as the Father of the Art Nouveau movement, Horta inspired a young Antoni Gaudi with his impressive vision and cutting edge designs. Horta died in 1947, but his life and works are still widely celebrated around the city. These are the main points of interest in Brussels:
Constructed in Ixelles, this building is located at 224 Avenue Louise, and was commissioned by the son of Armand Solvay, a rich Belgian industrialist. With a large budget to play around with, Horta designed a wonderful building for the family to live in and was involved in every single aspect of the design, including the door bell. It was designed, and still exists, as a private residence, so it’s not open to the public except by prior appointment. However, as it’s the exterior facade that’s listed by UNESCO, this can obviously be seen from the street and does not, therefore, require an appointment. Please do be respectful and quiet, though – no one wants tourists outside their house at 6am oohing and aahing beneath their bedroom windows.
Maison & Atelier Horta/Horta Museum:
Located in the Brussels subdivision of Saint-Gilles, on the Rue Americaine 25, these two attached properties were originally designed and built as a private residence for Horta himself. These days, it’s the official site of the Horta Museum, which covers the life and work of the famous Belgian, as well as housing permanent displays of furniture and other works, which include intricate light fixtures, wonderful stained glass, and a really rather impressive knob. Door knob, you filthy animal. Honestly, get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway, the houses have a fabulously curved staircase in pink and gold tones, which is best viewed by climbing to the top and sticking your head out over the railing in order to appreciate the full impact of the design. Don’t pop your head over too far, though, yeah? The properties also house lots of temporary exhibitions to showcase other works by Horta, as well as a range of current artists from around the world.
Hotel Van Eetvelde:
Located at 4 Avenue Palmerston, this once private residence now houses the Synergrid company and, as such, is not open to the public. The facade does have a pretty plaque on it to let you know who designed it, but you will have to suffer only being able to admire the building from the outside. The house was designed for Edmond Van Eetvelde, who was the Administrator of the free state of Congo, which was previously a Belgian colony until it was annexed in 1908. Horta made much use of the space here and employed the use of skylights and domes to produce as much natural light as possible. As he did with the now Horta Museum, the architect also installed a large decorative staircase leading to the upper floors.
Van Eetvelde, Tassel, Solvay and the Horta Museum make up 4 townhouses that were designated on the register of world heritage sites, as decided by UNESCO, in 2000.
Another UNESCO recognised town house, this is located at 6 Rue Paul-Emile Jansonstraat in Ixelles and is largely considered to be the first real example of Art Nouveau style anywhere in the world. It was commissioned for Professor Emile Tassel (hence the name…) and is made up of three separate parts, joined together with a glass and steel structure. As with many of his other structures, Horta was involved in every minute aspect of this property, including decorating the interior and designing the doorhandles. Unfortunately, the Tassel House is a privately owned office and is not open to the public. You can, however, freely loiter around on the street outside and look at the incredible stone, steel and glass facade ’til your heart’s content. Alternatively, why not see if you can work out what kind of business is run from the inside and make an appointment? It’s worth a try, unless, of course, it’s like an undertakers or something. That might be a *touch* difficult to pull off.
The Centre for Fine Arts:
Know locally as the ‘Bozar’, this concert venue and cultural centre had funding denied for its construction the Belgian parliament in the immediate aftermath of World War 1. After some agreed adjustments to the design (one being that it could not be too tall as to interfere with the King of Belgium’s views across the city) construction permits were eventually granted and work began. Building took more than ten years to complete with a portion of the usable space being built underground (gotta keep the King happy, after all). The building is now used for concerts and exhibitions, and the Great Sculpture Hall within its walls is named after the famous architect that helped to bring the idea to life.
Brussels Central Railway Station:
OK, so this doesn’t quite sound as fancy as the houses, but stick with me. Horta was commissioned to design the new station way back in 1910, but economic problems and two World Wars (how selfish…) got in the way of, well…everything, really, and the final design wasn’t actually completed until after Horta’s death. Horta died in 1947, while the station didn’t open until 1952, and was finished to modified plans by Horta’s colleague, Maxime Brunfaut. Brunfaut is also a very famous architect in his own right and was responsible for the incredible Lemaire Sanatorium in Overijse, which unfortunately now lies derelict.
Greenhouses of Laeken:
Working as an assistant to his Professor at the time, Alphonse Balat, a young Victor Horta helped to produce the design for the complex of domed tropical and sub tropical greenhouses that now make up part of the Royal Park to the north of the city centre. This massive collection hosts a huge collection of plants and trees – famous for being the site of King Leopold’s collection of orange groves – and spans more than 2.5 hectares of land. The greenhouses are only open to the public for a very short two-week period each year (April – May) and spend the rest of their time being enjoyed solely by Heads of State and the like. Melania Trump visited in 2017. No word on whether her husband was there, but chances are he was on the closest golf course. I jest, of course, I know he’s not really playing golf; he’s working. It’s just that he manages to do them simultaneously, which takes a lot of skill. Anyway, unless you can visit in April and May, you might want to try becoming Donald Trump’s 4th wife as that might be the only way to get the chance to have a peek.
Musee des Beaux-Arts Tournai:
Built to house the expansive and important Van Cutsem art collection, Horta was commissioned to design a space fitting for the calibre of artists that would be contained within the walls. The gallery is the permanent residence of pieces by Monet, Manet and Van Gogh. Horta’s original designs were along the same Art Nouveau designs as his town houses, but construction was halted due to the First World War and, when rescheduled (the house, not the war…) the design became more classical, reflecting the architects changing influences at the time. Tournai is a small municipality of Belgium and sits a little more than 50 miles south west of Brussels. The museum and gallery are open to the public.
Horta’s final resting place is in a beautiful cemetery in the Brussels neighbourhood in which he lived and worked for so long. Horta’s grave is a fairly unimpressive affair, given his works, but before his death he actually designed the stones for some other famous Belgians who are buried in the same location. He produced the tomb of Ernest Solvay (for whom he designed Hotel Solvay), as well as that of Belgian sculptor, Edouard Louis Geerts. Horta also designed the tomb of Johannes Brahms, although this is located in Vienna. The cemetery at Ixelles is often described as the Belgian equivalent of Pere La Chaise and, although much smaller; it’s equally beautiful.
Have you seen any designs by Victor Horta on your travels in Belgium?