This summer, the CIVA Foundation offers a unique perspective on half a century of town planning in Brussels. Two exhibitions take a distinctive look at the development of urban planning and architecture in Brussels and at the treatment of the city’s heritage: Save | Change the City – Unbuilt Brussels #01 examines Brusselisation, in which, at the urging of property developers and politicians, everything had to give way to what was called modern architecture.

If the ministers want to knock down the houses, OK, I know what I’ll do: I’ll leave my furniture for them. I’ll take two suitcases, my telly, and my dog too.
And I’m off. And then I’ll go and live with the ministers.
– Lucien, a resident of the Marollen/Marolles (La bataille des Marolles, 1969)

The Marollen/Marolles district and its inhabitants, who had to clear out to facilitate the extension of the courts building (Justitiepaleis/Palais de Justice), the demolition of the Centrale Hallen/Halles Centrales to make way for a new multi-story car park (the now obsolete Parking 58), the appalling idea of an urban motorway, the destruction of Horta’s Volkshuis/Maison du Peuple, and the Manhattan plan that set out to convert the residential district around the Brussels North train station into a US-style business district: in the 1950s and 1960s, Brusselisation was out of control. Brussels looked like a city that was being demolished – and not in wartime either. Large parts of the city were handed over to the property developers. Entire neighbourhoods were devastated. Residents of working-class districts were evicted in droves. And those plans had the support of the authorities. The starting point was that the ‘indispensable modernisation’ of the city was the first priority.

But resistance was organised. The first neighborhood committees were set up; local people rebelled. May 1968 protesters in Brussels had a clear goal. Two associations played a key role in that context: the Sint-Lukasarchief
and the Archives d’Architecture Moderne. They took a stand for the people of Brussels and for urban heritage and architecture. Now, in 2017, both are part of the CIVA Foundation.

The unique Save | Change the City exhibition presents an overview of their activities in opposition to ‘Brusselisation’ and explores the alternatives that the two associations proposed at the time in order to achieve a liveable city – one with respect for its citizens, its architecture, and its heritage. Their key weapon was the creation of unique archives. An inventory was drawn up of the heritage and research – into the importance of Victor Horta’s work and art nouveau, for example – was carried out, libraries were set up, exhibitions were organised: no effort was spared in the effort to counter the lack of vision on the part of property developers and the authorities in relation to town planning and the city’s heritage.

The exhibition offers, on the one hand, a sample of the treasures contained in both the Archives d’Architecture Moderne and the Sint-Lukasarchief: hundreds of original plans; alternative proposals for neighbourhoods, streets, and buildings; protest posters; models; manifestos, etc. At the same time, visual archives immerse you in the spirit of those times. Television reports and documentaries from the 1960s and 1970s give a voice to the people of Brussels. Visitors young and old get to see the Brussels of the past and the impact that a changed ‘vision’ of the city has had on its inhabitants.

Save | Change the City shows a Brussels that used to exist…but is no longer there. A Brussels that, here and there, it proved possible to save. And a Brussels that could have been. Which means that the exhibition is a perfect fit in the CIVA’s new Unbuilt Brussels series, which shows a city that was thought up…but never built.

In the context of the exhibition, guided tours are being organised every Thursday evening. These tours are free, once you have bought a ticket for the exhibition. We have asked a number of well-known Brussels figures (including the Brussels Region’s Chief Architect Kristiaan Borret and the writer Geert Van Istendael) to take visitors through their Brussels. A Brussels that they have known, have seen change…or have dreamed. With the exhibition serving as a as a kind of guidebook.

The exhibition runs from 23 June to 24th September 2017.

Upcoming CIVA Thursdays guided walks:

JUL 13: Kristiaan Borret.  Thu 6 PM 

JUL 20: Gwenaël Breës.  Thu 6 PM 

AUG 3: René Schoonbrodt. Thu 6 PM

AUG 17: Benoit Moritz.  Thu 6 PM 

Exhibition curators: Jos Vandenbreeden, Yaron Pesztat, and Maurice Culot 
More info: CIVA Foundation website.