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Atomiumsquare - 1020 Brussels

© David Marlé



As part of its series of exhibitions dedicated to architecture and design after 1958, the Atomium will be presenting ARChiteC tOniC .

COnCRete WAlls (1958-1980) .

This exhibition is a great opportunity

to learn about the technical aspects and aesthetic dimension of a major, fundamental element of post-war Belgian and international architecture. Once again, the Atomium’s aim is to familiarise people with modern architecture. Until the 1970s, an elegant concrete arrow reached out from just a few hundred metres away from the Atomium. The Civil Engineering arrow, a tribute to the glory of Belgian engineering, impressed many a visitor. On the Heysel Plateau, this was not even the only example of the architectural majesty of concrete. As World Fairs were determined to reflect a century that was proud of its progress, Hall 5 of the 1945 Expo had already demonstrated the indulgence that this new material would allow. It was therefore obvious that the Atomium, the symbol of Expo 58, would be the perfect setting for this wonderful exhibition. The aim of ARChiteC tOniC .

COnCRete WAll s (1958-1980)

is to bring back

a major architectural material that was used in architecture from 1945 onwards. Often criticised, synonymous for some with “Brusselisation”, Architectonic tells visitors the important story of concrete in architecture. In the many urban developments that Brussels has lived through over recent decades, from housing to community facilities, as well as offices, today more than ever, concrete plays a vital role. Concrete has the ability to surprise ! It amazes with the excitement and the rhythm of its façades and structures that sum up our everyday lives. Since the beginning of the last century, concrete has gradually made its mark on architecture for better and sometimes for worse ARChiteC tOniC . COnCRete WAll s (1958-1980)

is spread over three floors to dazzle visitors and help them truly

appreciate the architecture of the Belgian buildings that we use every day. After an interactive introduction, to help visitors understand what concrete is and what it can create in terms of architecture, there is a presentation of a number of symbolic buildings in Brussels and in Belgium, explaining the architectural poetry of a very modern material.



ARCH ITECTONIC AT THE ATOM IUM, A FORM OF EDITOR IAL COHERENCE Every two years, the Atomium puts on exhibitions for its visitors which are concerned with the themes of architecture and design in the fifties. The commemoration for the 50’th anniversary of the monument in 2008 evaluated the adventure of Expo 58 and the innovative architecture of its pavilions. Prior to this, the WillY

VAn deR MeeRen

exhibition displayed the work of a contemporary architect

and designer from this period in 2006. Pl AYFul MOdeRnisM ,

in 2010, produced an avant-garde formal lexicon of the 1950s and 1960s.

The architectural vocabulary was placed alongside that of design and graphics which were brought to life with a same concern for innovation, a clean break with the past, a search for new forms and new materials. On this occasion, a model of the CBR building was displayed at the end of the course. It opened the themes of concrete façades consisting of repetitive patterns of supporting structures and simple coverings. The ARChiteC tOniC .

COnCRete WAll s (1958-1980)

continues the themes by presenting the visitor

with a new look at the iconic modernist buildings of Brussels (and Brabant), properties with remarkable façades which are either revered or disdained, but which have become veritable urban wallpapers. ARChiteC tOniC . COnCRete WAll s (1958-1980)

is resolutely oriented towards the general public,

but inhabitants of Brussels will be pleased to rediscover their heritage as a result of spectacular reproductions of architectonic elements in an unedited and singular relation with these façades, which suddenly become accessible and undeniably aesthetic. The commissariat is assumed by Stephanie Van de Voorde PhDArchEng, who is a specialist in the history of concrete architecture in Belgium.




CONCRETE AND ARCH ITECTURE OF THE 20 TH CENTURY The exhibition paints a quick portrait of the adventure of concrete structures in Belgium over a long and very visual timeline. Conversely, the catalogue places more of an emphasis on the birth of reinforced concrete, a new material which presents engineers and then architects with new opportunities. By as early as at the end of the 19th century in Belgium, François Hennebique perfected a system of construction which was based on structures of reinforced concrete beams and columns. The structures of bridges, water towers and individual houses like the Dubois-Petit House designed by Paul Saintenoy in Brussels (1899-1901), made use of the Hennebique system. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was the construction of cheap dwellings and the erection of public edifices such as churches which constituted the most interesting applications of concrete. The ‘Modern City’ of Victor Bourgeois (1922-25) and the numerous individual houses of LouisHerman De Koninck made almost sole use of lean concrete or reinforced concrete. To realise the St Jean Baptiste Church in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean in 1930-1933, the architect Joseph Diongre used a concrete parabolic structure which was borrowed from air hangars which require a great deal of room. The churches of St Augustine in Forest and St Suzanne in Schaerbeek are examples of the systematic use of reinforced concrete for the design of new art deco churches in Brussels. The ARChiteC tOniC .

COnCRete WAll s (1958-1980)

exhibition does not stay long with this historical

approach and shows more of an interest in the principle of prefabricated concrete and the formal quest of the postwar architects.

the beginnings OF the MAnuFACtuRe OF eleMents in ReinFORCed COnCRete (1945-1955)

During the period immediately after the War and during the phase of intense reconstruction, the builders always made use of traditional methods. However, the importance of the supply and demand of skilled labour called for the development of a quicker, more efficient and cheaper method of construction.

with a maximum number of elements beings produced in the workshop. The simplification of forms and the disappearance of the superfluous were to facilitate the transport and assembly of these elements. Prefabrication thus made it possible to produce economic dwellings with a small number of parts and, by definition, multiplied parts.

the PeRiOd OF e XPAnsiOn OF PReFAbRiCAtiOn (1955-1968)

Under the pressure of public opinion, the pace of production was speeded up in order to cope with the demand for accommodation. It was the period of the big production sites which made it possible to achieve gains in production as a result of serial processes. Two concurrent methods were thus used on a large scale : the use of large formwork tools, which made it possible to produce concrete walls and floors in situ, and the heavy production in the factory of flat panels, walls, façades and floors which were installed on site with the help of heavy handling equipment. Architects showed a keen interest in the industrial method of prefabrication and explored its creative possibilities. In the 1950s, the architects Renaat Braem and Willy Van Der Meeren, in their quest for the formal and the functional, took advantage of the potential for reinforced concrete for social housing. André Jacqmain and Jules Wabbes, also pioneers, conceived in 1955-1958 of the property in which Foncolin’s office was based (now no longer there), one of the very first buildings to be built in the business quarter of Belliard and whose supporting façade consisted of arches made of reinforced concrete. After a stay in the USA, Constantin Brodzki actively participated in the development of new forms of concrete and new technologies under the auspices of S.A. Ergon, a research service and prefabrication subsidiary of CBR, the combined cement works of Belgium, for which Brodsky designed the offices in Watermael-Boitsfort (1967 -1970). The exhibition displays numerous models of these properties and provides the visitor with a global view of the problems of prefabrication.


Entrepreneurs embraced the principle of the main processes of the industrialisation of the prefab


BETWEEN ARCH ITECTURE AND SCULPTURE On the floor of the exhibition globe of the Atomium, eight examples of buildings have been chosen to illustrate the great creative and innovative qualities of the modernist architects between 1958 and 1980. the 8 buildings  :

BBL -MAR NI X | 1959-1965

in Brussels, architect Gordon Bunshaft (SOM office)

“ When you are given an opportunity to do a building in Brussels on a site near the king’s palace, if you don’t do a monument, you are a jackass ! ” TOR R I NGTON | 1963-1964

in Nivelles, architect Marcel Breuer

“ What about aesthetics ? A new depth of facade is emerging ; three-dimensionality resulting in a greatly expanded vocabulary of architectural expression. Sun and shadow ” CBR | 1967-1970

in Brussels / Watermael-Boitsfort, architect Constantin Brodzki

“ Le béton, en effet, donne une bien plus grande liberté au concepteur que celle que semblent lui accorder la plupart des architectes…. Pour faire comprendre que le béton n’était, en aucune manière, obligé d’être parallélépipédique, j’ai choisi de travailler avec les formes inspirées par Horta et par l’Art Nouveau ” 

in Brussels, architects André and Jean Polak, René Stapels 

“ la couleur de la pierre naturelle, mais avec le caractère du béton ” COM MUNAL COM PLE X | 1969-1970

in Brussels / Auderghem, architects Vermeulen and Van Antwerpen 

“ in de repetitie van het decoratief element bieden geprefabriceerde claustra’s in beton talloze mogelijkheden ” MAGASI N ROB | 1973

in Brussels / Woluwe-St-Pierre, architect Albert Nottebart

“ une immense dentelle de béton ” CGER | 1970 -1974

in Brussels / Woluwe-St-Pierre, architects Marcel Lambrichs, Casimir Grochowski, Daniel de Lavelaye

“ Etant donné que les éléments présentaient une ‘forme ouverte’, le vitrage n’a pas été installé entre ces éléments comme ce fut le cas pour le bâtiment CBR, mais plutôt en retrait ” SWI FT | 1980 -1983

at La Hulpe, architect Constantin Brodzki 

“ Le bâtiment résultant apparaît comme le fruit de vingt années de recherches sur les possibilités du béton préfabriqué ”


I N NOVATION | 1968 -1970


BBL, 1959-1965, bank office, Brussels

ROB, 1973, department store, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre / Brussels

Torrington, 1963-1964, office building and factory, Nivelles

CBR, 1967-1970, office building, Watermael-Boitsfort / Brussels


Auderghem, 1970, municipal complex, Auderghem

Innovation, 1968-1970, department store, Brussels

Swift I, 1980-1983, office building, La Hulpe

CGER / ASLK, 1970-1974, bank office, Brussels

Arrow of Civil Engineering, Brussels, ir. AndrĂŠ Paduart, arch. Jean Van Doosselaere, sculpt. Jacques Moeschal

The desire of Thierry Belenger, the initiator of the project, and Michel Bries, a scenographer, was to extract architectonic elements from their structural function. By isolating the matrix of a faรงade and reproducing it in facsimile, most often at 100 % of its size, the exhibition provides the visitor with a new vision of these emblematic buildings. The architectural module which is suspended in an improbable weightlessness, forgetting its inital function, is suddenly perceived by the public as a real sculpture around which it turns in order to savour its formal perfection. Some decorative openwork is installed in order to illustrate the play of the repetition of forms in surprising effects of a pattern, a giant screen or three-dimensional wallpaper. On the occasion of his visit, the spectator will forget the heaviness of the concrete and the image of a grey town which is wrongly associated with such a rich material.

ORiginAl COnCRete benChe s de signed FOR the e XhibitiOn bY A de signeR

Wolfgang Bregentzer has designed a new bench and has taken up the architectural principle of a thin veil in which intrinsic resistance flows from the form. His tripod bench, 1.20 metres wide and cast with a maximum width of 30 mm, optimises the resistance of the material. Through this original furniture, the public discovers that concrete invites you to its home, whether to its lounge or its terrace. The public will also follow all stages of creation and realisation in a video situated opposite the impressive original mould and, in doing so, will better understand the principle of prefabrication. Lastly, it will also be surprised to see that concrete is acquiring colour and that grey is no longer obligatory today. The Concrete Federation and the company DECOMO have leant their assistance and expertise to the creation of the exhibition. The Atomium thus pursues its exploration of this rich era in which architecture and design are caught up in the maelstrom of the spirit of innovation which came into being with Expo 58.



thieRRY beleng eR

MiChel bRie s

ARChiVe de sig n PROJeC t

MAndR AgORe sCenOg R APhY

A s u b J eC t i s A bOV e A ll A n e n COu n te R

A n e X h i b itiOn i s te lli n g A s tORY

If a design archive has been created, it is as a result of

The 3 rd dimension offers strong views on communication.

meetings with the great Belgian architects and designers

An exhibition is not satisfied with showing; it must

of the last century. Their work is a testament for life :

talk and choose suitable objects, words and images

the illustration of a very great cohesion between the

for communication.

vision of a profession, creations and personal, sincere and committed experience.

These are the views of Michel Bries, a scenographer,


with regard to the evocation of his profession under The regret that Willy Van Der Meeren was not able to

the auspices of the Mandragore structure, a Brussels

see the exhibition at the Architecture Foundation in

agency for visual communication.

2002 while he was alive made me aware of the need

The creations for the Atomium, the fondation pour

to collect the traces and witnesses of these great creators

l’architecture (‘Architecture Foundation’) or the fiftieth

in order to be able to share them with the public.

anniversary illustrate the concern with taking best

In 2007, Thierry Belenger presented a look back at

advantage of a subject and a place by clearly identifying

the interior designer Christophe Gevers.

the objectives and targeted sectors of the public.

His death did not prevent the exhibition ‘Inventory of an inventor’ from being shown on the basis of a list

An exhibition tells a story, he insists. Scenography

produced by the designer himself.

takes the time to take its public on a walk to the heart of a subject which has, by being placed in a space,

In the case of the Atomium in particular, it is a matter of

become captivating. The spectator thus emerges

developing thematic exhibitions associated with this

informed as well as moved, if not surprised, from his

very fruitful period of modernism in the 1950s and 1960s.

interactive experience.

According to Van Der Meeren and Playful modernism, it is the formal architectonic quest which the globe

The personal interests of Michel Bries push him to

concerns itself with in its temporary exhibitions.

imagine scenographies which are concerned with design and architecture in synergy with Thierry Belenger and

There are also the meetings with Constantin Brodzki

Archives design, whose objectives he has supported

and André Jacqmain, which will enrich the content of

since its creation. The scenographer is moreover a

the future exhibition, continues Thierry.

Professor of Graphic and Visual Communication and

We have created some naturally grand rooms and we

a lecturer at CAD in Brussels.

have found some models to bring alive the architecture of the interior for the public in a simple and carnal relation-

Architectonic forgets the technical issues and the dreary

ship with the forms. The aesthetics of the architectural

image of concrete in our modern towns. The exhibition

options of this era were audacious ! And contagious !

shows the creativity and the formal quest of modern architects freed from the past and transported by the

Thierry Belenger divides his time between the Archives

performance of a material which is more airy and flexible

d’Architecture Moderne (‘Modern Architecture Archives’),

than we could have ever have imagined.

the basis for exhibitions, the Brussels design market and the Bergé sales room for which he has since this

enKele ReFeRenties

year become a consultant in the matter of design.

2000 scenography at Art@Belgium / Dexia 2001 graphic creation

sO M e R e F e R e n C e s

2006 scenography at Willy Van Der Meeren / Atomium

2006 commissariat of Willy Van Der Meeren / Atomium

2007 scenography at Vous êtes ici / St Géry

2008 commissariat of Christophe Gevers / Fondation

2008 scenography at Christophe Gevers /

pour l’architecture (‘Architecture Foundation’)

Fondation pour l’architecture

2009 consultant for Modernisme Ludique / Atomium

2008 scenography at Picture-trees / St Géry

2011 commissariat of Architectonic / Atomium

2009 scenography at Modernisme Ludique / Atomium

2010 scenography at Les Marolles / Porte de Halle

Stephanie presented her study of the history of concrete

2011 scenography at Alban Chambon /

in past years in academic publications and at conferences

Fondation pour l’architecture

in Belgium and abroad (France, Germany, Netherlands,

2011 scenography at Vande Velde@home / La Cambre

Portugal, Great Britain, Turkey and Venezuela). She has

2011 scenography at Architectonic / Atomium

also given some guest lectures at Belgian universities and colleges of higher education. At the moment, she is conducting research into the archives of architectural schools in Flanders as project manager at the

s tePhAnie VAn de VOORde

Centrum Vlaamse Architectuurarchieven (‘Flemish

ARChiteC tuR Al his tORiAn

Architectural Archives Centre’) (part of the Flemish


Architectuurinstituut (‘Institute of Architecture’).

th e R i C h h i s tO RY O F A V e R sAti le A n d

sOM e R e Fe R e n C e s

M u lti d i sC i Pli n A RY M Ate R i A l

2006 ‘Sculpture house in Belgium by Jacques Gillet’,

No other material has influenced the architecture of the 20 th century as strongly as reinforced concrete.

in : Design and nature III, Southampton : WIT Press. 2008 Isia Isgour 1913-1967, Antwerpen :

The versatility and endless opportunities for using the

Centrum Vlaamse Architectuurarchieven.

material make the history of concrete in Belgian archi-

2008 ‘Beton in de Belgische architectuur (1945-1970)’,

tecture a particularly exciting story. I have thus willingly accepted the possibility of bringing a part of this story to the general public in the form of this exhibition!

in : Cement (nr. 5, 6, 7, 8). 2008 ‘On the interface between architecture,

engineering, and technology’, in : Construction History Society Journal.

In February 2011, Stephanie Van de Voorde (a civil

2009 ‘Hennebique’s journal Le Béton armé’, in : Third

engineer and architect (University of Ghent, 2005)

International Congress on Construction History,

successfully defended her doctoral thesis ‘Building in concrete in Belgium (1890-1975). The interplay of

Cottbus : Brandenburg University of Technology. 2009 ‘Reassembling design and construction’,

knowledge, experiment and innovation’ in the Vakgroep

in : Networks of Design. Conference of the

Architectuur & Stedenbouw (‘Study Group of Archi-

Design History Society (UK), Boca Raton:

tecture and Urban Development’) (University of Ghent).

Universal Publishers.

She has worked on this first comprehesive, in-depth

2009 Ingenieurs en hun erfgoed, Leuven: SIWE.

study of the development and use of concrete in

2010 ‘Collaboration and rivalry at Expo 58’

Belgium for more than five years.

landmarks’, in : First international Conference on Structures and Architecture, Boca Raton :

I have received positive comments about this study from different angles, partly because I have not

CRC Press / Balkema. 2010 ‘Innovations and Experiments in Modern

confined myself to the architectural characteristics, but

Belgian Architecture’, in : IXth International

have also included the economic features, technical

Docomomo Conference : ‘Other Modernisms’,

aspects and structural advantages. In this way, not

Ankara : Docomomo.

only do the iconic, high-profile creations of architects come into the picture, but the important contribution of less well known engineers and contractors also finds a place in the story. This multidisciplinary aspect of the material which brings people from different backgrounds together also runs as a leitmotif through the exhibition : whereas the architectural histography all too often confines itself to the name of the architect, the design and the construction process of these buildings shows that collaboration with engineers and technicians in prefab companies and contractors were determinative of success.

2010 ‘L’application innovatrice du béton armé

dans la construction d’églises en Belgique’, in : Edifice & Artifice, Parijs : Picard. 2011 ‘Histoire de l’architecture en béton en Belgique

(1920-1975)’, in : Les Nouvelles du Patrimoine. 2011 Bouwen in beton in België (1890-1975). Samen-

spel van kennis, experiment en innovatie, PhD. 2011 Architectonic. Concrete walls (1958-1980),

Brussels: Atomium.



detail of the hinges in stainless steel, covered with chromium-plated nickel, connecting the cruciform facade elements in ‘schokbeton’

TH I NK I NG OF A FORM, YES, BUT BEYOND THE FUNCTION I have been happy to produce these architectonic facsimiles for the exhibition : architecture, design and sculpture enter into dialogue to my greatest pleasure. Wolfgang talks to us while finishing the puttying on the large structures of the façades, his hair whitened by the dust. My journey has been a bit different : I started in architecture, then I obtained a degree in contemporary history while taking sculpture classes. And I also did some cinema sets to survive. With the realisation of ARChiteC tOniC .

COnCRete WAll s (1958-1980) ,

Wolfgang Bregentzer finds

himself at the foot of the Atomium, which reminds him of the subject of his thesis : Expo 58 (view from the angle of its politics and propaganda), research which he undertakes with José Gotovitch under the auspices of the CEGES (Centre d’Etude Guerre et Société Contemporaine) (‘War and Contemporary Society Study Centre’). The encounter with modernist architects and designers, the interviews which he conducts and the archives which he unearths arouse his interest in the creation of the postwar period, but particularly give him a taste for innovation. By producing these castings, I have physically re-entered the work of these great creators. Breuer, Brodzki … transcended simple function. Their formal quest takes them beyond an architectural response: it is allied with sculpture. Looking at how these pieces catch the light as they are – it is sublime! Today, Wolfgang produces furniture and objects in small production runs. He does not like to call himself a designer. However, he creates and produces tailor-made collections such as his benches veiled in concrete which are specially designed for the WAll s (1958-1980)

ARChiteC tOniC . COnCRete


I am directing my research towards the future. I am fascinated by the subject matter, particularly the casting of composites and forms of concrete. My workshop is a real laboratory!





With this project, the Atomium is delighted to be able to inaugurate a new format for its publications. So there will not only be a catalogue, but also a reference book all about architecture and concrete. Packed with fascinating words and images, it will help visitors to get the most out of their experience at

ARChiteC tOniC . COnCRete

WAll s (1958-1980) .

Closed format 185 x 205 mm, 156 pages, colour, 12 €

Kids ’ WORKshOPs

Workshops :

Citie s And its FAÇ Ade s

For schools during the entire duration of the exhibition. For individual visitors on Saturday February 11th and Saturday March 10th and the afternoons of the Spring and Easter holidays. For information and subscription

inFO And COntACts

Inge Van Eycken, Press Relations 0479/95 05 94 Arnaud Bozzini, Exhibition Manager 0476/53 20 31

Profile for Atomium

Architectonic. Press file.  

And if the concrete was rhyming: technical and aesthetic? Moderation and excess? Simplicity and creativity? Architecture and sculpture? Arch...

Architectonic. Press file.  

And if the concrete was rhyming: technical and aesthetic? Moderation and excess? Simplicity and creativity? Architecture and sculpture? Arch...

Profile for atomium