While Brussels has the image of an administrative capital full of offices, for a long time it was the main industrial city in Belgium. In addition to factories, historical urban warehouses were remarkable structures. As essential buildings in trade and industry, they were once “cathedrals of modernity”. Today, however, and despite their robust architecture, they have become vulnerable urban heritage. Like other European cities, the Brussels-Capital Region was characterized by deindustrialisation. Over the course of the 20th century, many warehouses lost their original function and often underwent drastic changes and conversions.
Today, historical urban commercial and industrial zones – in particular the entire canal area – are undergoing in-depth transformation. Some warehouses have disappeared or are threatened with demolition because of the speed and intensity with which the urban space is being redeveloped under pressure of the growing population. Despite demolitions, there is still a rich, diverse and unique collection of historical warehouses in Brussels. But, in view of ensuring the preservation and respectful adaptive reuse of the warehouses, it is necessary to have an inventory and in-depth knowledge of them.
Thankfully, these buildings are beginning to generate interest among architects and engineers. The 117th issue of Brussels Studies presents the results of studies conducted in Brussels by Marianne De Fossé, a civil engineer and architect from the Architectural Engineering Department at Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
An in-depth examination of archives and the first on-site investigations of 19th and 20th century warehouses in the historic city centre of Brussels, covering the first industrial zone around the river Senne and the docks, highlighted 80 demolished and still existing urban warehouses.
The research proves that not all warehouses were plain buildings, but that some of them, like beer and textile warehouses, were specifically designed to represent the company. The choice of construction materials was not only determined by economic considerations and new technological trends, but was closely linked to the nature of the traded item. Hay storage required a timber floor which absorbed moisture. Beer storage required brick floors which were resistant to moisture and iron columns to bear heavier loads. With relation to the integration in the urban fabric, all warehouses were located in specific areas in the city, but not necessarily industrial areas. For example, textile warehouses were located in the Quartier Maritime and in residential neighbourhoods, since these warehouses stored and sold luxury goods. They were showrooms of the time, as it were.
The majority of the beer warehouses and the three textile warehouses still exist today. However, only one timber and one hay warehouse remain. Not all types of warehouse are equal with respect to the evolution of the city. The knowledge of building approaches and the use of these warehouses is therefore essential for their preservation and adaptive reuse.
Press release source & link to full article:
Marianne De Fossé, “Title”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 117, 27 November 2017.
Published at: https://journals.openedition.org/brussels/1579