The Centre for Fine Arts of Victor Horta 


A labyrinth for the Arts

The Belgian architect Victor Horta designed and constructed the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels between 1920 and 1928. It is home to a large concert hall, several exhibition halls and spaces for both visual and performing arts: from music to cinema and from literature, theatre and dance to architecture. With its current programme, BOZAR is building bridges between the arts and other sectors such as education, science, research and cultural diplomacy. BOZAR sees itself as a stimulating marketplace for social developments in the Capital of Europe.

The project was an initiative of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, just before the outbreak of the First World War. Important contributions were made by the City of Brussels, the Belgian State, and Civil Society. The Centre for Fine Arts is an early example of a successful Public-Private Partnership.

In 1936 Victor Horta also designed the original plans for Brussels’ Central Railway Station and the building between the station and the Centre for Fine Arts.
The ambition of the underlying urban scheme was dual: to create a pedestrian walkway between the upper town and the centre; and to revitalise the city with restaurants and commercial spaces.
Today the Ravenstein Gallery connects the Centre for Fine Arts with the Central Station.

Originally designed as a sculpture hall, the Horta Hall is the largest hall in the Centre for Fine Arts. Initially Victor Horta wanted to express the monumentality of the building at the main entrance on rue Ravenstein, but the City of Brussels asked him to include a series of shops along the street. Horta translated this request into a building that is perfectly integrated in its urban surroundings.
The project’s monumentality was thus interiorised in this unique public space.

From the very beginning the Horta Hall was used for both cultural and commercial events.

In December 1930 the third CIAM congress took place in the Centre for Fine Arts. CIAM stands for Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne or ‘International Congresses of Modern Architecture’, an organisation that brought together leading international modernist architects.
This group picture features world famous architects such as Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Henry van de Velde.
Surprisingly, Victor Horta was not present in his own building.

In order to make the Centre for Fine Arts financially viable, the Sculpture Hall was rented out for private and commercial events.

An early example is the General Motors Motor Show in 1936.

Inspired by the student revolution in Paris, artists such as Marcel Broodthaers occupied the Central Hall in May 1968.

The artists declared themselves in support of the students of the Brussels University ULB, signed a protest against the ruling cultural system, and emphasised that every step taken in the cultural arena must be founded on protest by the entire society.

The occupation didn’t last long but it had a profound influence on the organisation.
Participation, Information, Reflection and Cultural Action became watchwords.

Following the 1968 occupation by artists and students, the management organised an architectural competition for the refurbishment of the Central Hall. Lucien-Jacques Baucher designed and created an impressive tubular installation called ‘Forum’ in the hope of bringing artists and public closer together.

In 1996 Baucher’s installation was removed and the Horta Hall’s original spatial qualities were restored.

Completed in October 1929, the acoustic qualities of the Henry Le Boeuf Concert Hall mean it is considered one of the best concert halls in the world.
The hall is named after the enlightened art and music lover Henry Le Boeuf, the Centre for Fine Arts’ very first managing director. As a mark of its modernity the concert hall and the rest of the building was made of reinforced concrete. The use of this new building technology made the hall’s daring design possible.

The last renovation works to be carried out in the concert hall date back to 2000, when the restoration of the organ was begun. The organ is unique due to the fact that it was the only musical instrument ever designed by Victor Horta. It will once again be an integral part of the concert programme.

The design of the Concert Hall changed during the construction of the building following interventions by Henry Le Boeuf and his assistant Pierre Janlet who describe examples of great concert halls in Europe in a series of letters to Victor Horta. In this letter from 11 August 1925, Pierre Janlet adds a sketch of the Hall in Edinburgh. Horta changed the Concert Hall from rectangular to egg-shaped.
The shape was inspired by the famous violist Eugene Ysaye, who wanted to feel more embraced by the public.

The Centre for Fine Arts feels like a three-dimensional labyrinth. It has close links with the surrounding neighbourhood.

The building has 8 floors, 8 entrances, and connects 5 streets on different levels.

Here we are standing in the area between the special King’s Entrance and the Concert Hall’s Royal Box. The floor and walls are made of marble to please the royal visitors.

The Belgian architect Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) is one of the men behind the Art Nouveau style.

He is best known for the private houses he built around 1900 in Brussels.

Horta designed the Centre for Fine Arts after a long stay in the United States during World War I. In the 1920s he preferred the Art Deco style.

The central idea behind Horta’s design was to create a public right of way through the building, which linked the upper town around the Royal Palace to the lower town and the centre of Brussels.

Today this BOZAR STREET hosts free exhibitions and introductions to the temporary exhibitions in the two main exhibition circuits.

Here you can see the Horta Hall on your right-hand side and one of the free exhibition spaces in the BOZAR STREET on your left-hand side.

The BOZAR STREET links the entrance at the Royal Park with the main entrance in rue Ravenstein. Visitors are free to walk from the Horta Hall to the ‘Antechambers’ at the end of the free exhibition space. Horta designed a circular room at both ends.

Horta’s initial idea was to design a monumental elevation at the Place des Palais, next to the Royal Palace and in front of the Academy Palace.

Giving a presence to the new cultural infrastructure in this highly symbolic environment was not possible due to the protected view from the Royal Palace to the City Hall spire, so the Centre for Fine Arts ended up going mainly underground.

In 2016 BOZAR commissioned Filip Dujardin to create a picture of the façade of the Centre for Fine Arts at the Royal Park.
It resulted in a series of pictures of the protected 18th century garden wall.

BOZAR plans to make more of this entrance in the near future. To be continued…

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