Neoclassical architecture in Belgium

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Abbaye d'Hélécine
Laurent-Benoît Dewez, 1762-1780
Hôtel de Ligne
Brussels, Gilles-Barnabé Guimard, 1777
Palais de la Nation (parliament)
Brussels, Gilles-Barnabé Guimard, 1778-1783
Hôtel Errera
Brussels, Gilles-Barnabé Guimard, 1779-1782
Little theatre of the Château de Seneffe
Seneffe, Charles De Wailly, 1779

Neoclassical architecture (French: Architecture néoclassique) appeared in Belgium during the period of Austrian occupation in the mid 18th century and enjoyed considerably longevity in the country, surviving through periods of French and Dutch occupation and the birth of Independent Belgium, surviving well into the 20th century.

Origins of neoclassical architecture[edit]

Neoclassicism in architecture was the result of renewed interest in the architectural forms of Greco-Roman antiquity discovered in the excavation of sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century.

Its spread in Europe was driven by:

  • The writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann who can be regarded as the founder of art history and archeology as modern disciplines;
  • The practice of "Grand Tour", a trip made by young men of the upper classes of European society which had the effect of bringing together northern European high society together with ancient art;
  • Visits to Italy by many young artists and architects.

Neoclassicism in the Austrian Netherlands[edit]

Growth of the neoclassical style in the Austrian Netherlands took place from 1759 during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and the governorship of his brother Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine.

The growth of the style was aided by various elements including:

Theresian Style[edit]

The neoclassical style is known as the "Louis XVI style" in France, however the parallel development of the style in the Austrian Netherlands is sometimes called "Theresian style" (French: Style thérésien) in reference to the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

Abbaye d'Hélécine
Laurent-Benoît Dewez, 1762-1780
Abbaye d'Hélécine
Laurent-Benoît Dewez, 1762-1780


It is possible to divide the architects and their major works according to the diverse phases of neoclassicism in Belgium and the distinct periods of political occupation.

Pure neoclassicism (1759-1865)[edit]

Austrian period (1759-1792)[edit]

Orval Abbey Church (1759-1782, destroyed), Hélécine Abbey (1762-1780), Gembloux Abbey (1762 -1779), Château de Seneffe (1763-1768), abbey of Saint-Martin de Tournai (1763), Forest Abbey (1764) Sainte-Begge d'Andenne in Andenne (1764-1778), Abbey Valduc in Hamme-Mille (1765, destroyed), the Bonne-Espérance Abbey (1770-1776), inside the Floreffe Abbey (1770-1775), abbey of Sint-Truiden (1770) Affligem Abbey (1770-1779, destroyed), Church of St. Peter at Jette (1776), Vlierbeek Abbey (1776)
  • 1760 Jean Faulte
The chapel of the Palace of Charles of Lorraine (known as the "Royal Chapel") (1760)
Sections of the Palace of Charles of Lorraine (1760)
  • 1766 Jacques-Barthélemy Renoz [1]
Church of the Holy Sacrament, Liège (1766) Waux-hall of Spa (1769-1771), Hasselbrouck Castle (1770), Verviers town hall (1775-1780), Château Beaumont (1775-1776)
  • 1774 Claude Fisco
Martyrs Square (1774), Nouveau Marché au Grain (1787, with Nivoy)
  • 1775 Jean-François Wincqz
Church of Cambron Abbey (1775-1780), Church of Grand-Leez to Gembloux (1776), Saint-Pierre d'Uccle (1782) Church of Neufchâteau-lez-Visé (1789)
  • 1776 Jean-Benoît Vincent Barré (French architect)
Plans of the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg and Place Royale (1776)
Façade of Saint-Jacques-sur-Coudenberg (1776-1787), former Hôtel Bellevue, now BELvue (1776), Place Royale, Brussels (1776-1781), Hôtel de Ligne (1777), National Palace (now the parliament) (1778-1783, Hotel Errera (1779-1782)
Little theatre of the Château de Seneffe (1779), Royal Palace of Laeken (1782-1784), Hunting Lodge Castle d'Ursel (pavilion called "Notelaer") to Hingene (1791-1794)
Théâtre royal du Parc (1782) Château de Seneffe (1782), supervision of construction of the Royal Palace of Laeken (on plans by Charles de Wailly), former refuge of the Abbey of St. Gertrude de Louvain (1782-1784), former Hôtel Walckiers, Rue de la Loi 12 (1782-1784, current Hôtel des Finance), Hôtel Bender, Belgiojoso and Walckiers (1783 -1786, parts of the Royal Palace of Brussels), choir, nave and transept of the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg (1785-1786 )
  • 1786 Ghislain-Joseph Henry
Château de Duras Sint-Truiden (1786-1789)
  • Anonymous
Porch of the neoclassical St Margaret's Church of Tournai (1779-1782)

French period (1792-1815)[edit]

Since the period of French occupation was characterized by the long-running French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, few outstanding neoclassical works were constructed.

  • Ghislain Joseph Henry (already active under the Austrian period)
Orangery and temple at near Wespelaar (1798)
  • 1791 L. Radelet
Château de la Tour au Bois in Villers-le-Temple (1791)
  • 1805 A. Dubois
Château de Sélys-Longchamps in Waremme (1805)
  • 1806 J.F. Van Gierdegom
Governor's Residence in Bruges (1806)
  • 1807 J.J. Dutry
Château Gavergracht in Drongen (1807)

Dutch Period (1815-1830)[edit]

Palais des Académies (rear façade)
Brussels, Charles Vander Straeten, 1815-1825
Royal Stables of Brussels
Charles Vander Straeten, 1815-1825

In 1815, the Southern Netherlands were united by the Congress of Vienna with the Dutch United Provinces to form the new Dutch-led "United Kingdom of the Netherlands".

Under William I, many of the most significant neoclassical buildings were constructed in Brussels, including the Palais des Académies, Monnaie Theatre, Botanical Gardens, Royal Observatory and the Royal palace, precursor of the modern palace.

  • Ghislain-Joseph Henry (already active under the Austrian period)
Connection of the Hôtel Bender and Belgiojoso (constructed by Montoyer in 1785) to create the palace of William I (1820)
  • 1815 Charles Vander Straeten
Palais des Académies and the Royal Stables of Brussels (planned in 1815, built 1823-1825), work on the Palais de la Nation (1816-1818), Ball room of the Vauxhall (after 1820)
(See below for his works after 1830)
Aula Academica in Ghent (1816-1825), Liberal club of Geraardsbergen (1817), Neoclassical tower of Ninove Abbey (1826-1844), south wing of Alost Town Hall (1828-1830)
(See below for his works after 1830)
  • 1818 Louis Damesme (French architect)
La Monnaie theatre (1818-1819) (Not the current building, which was built by Poelaert),
Street surrounding the theatre (designed 1817-1819)
  • 1824 Nicolas Roget (French architect)
Place des Barricades (1824), extension of the Palace of Charles of Lorraine (1825), former Royal Obervatory of Brussels (1826-1832, with Auguste Payen)
Completion of the Palais des Académies (1825-1828), designs of the Botanical Gardens (1826, construction started by Pierre-François Gineste, then resumed in 1842 by Suys)
(See below for his works after 1830)
  • 1825 Bruno Renard
Grand Hornu (1825)
(See below for his works after 1830)
  • 1826 Pierre Bruno Bourla
Orangery of the Botanical Garden of Antwerp (1826, demolished), French Royal Theatre (known as the "Bourla Theatre") in Antwerp (1827-1834)
(See below for his works after 1830)
  • 1827 Henri Partoes
Pacheco Hospice (1827), Orangery of the Château de Belœil (1830)
Palais des Académies
Vander Straeten and Suys
Former Royal Observatory of Brussels
Nicolas Roget and Auguste Payen (1826-1832)
Ninove Abbey
Bell tower by Louis Roelandt
Bell tower by Suys (1849)

Reign of Leopold I (1830-1865)[edit]

Pavilions of the Porte de Namur,
Brussels, Auguste Payen, 1836
Architects already active under the United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Royal Opera of Ghent (1837-1840), Hall of the Saint-Trond Academy (1845...)
  • Charles Vander Straeten
Maison de la Malibran (current town hall of Ixelles, 1835)
Plan du Quartier Léopold (1837), extension of the Botantical garden (1842-1854), modification of the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg (side-aisles 1843-1845, the new front to the façade and bell tower, 1849-1851), Church of Saint-Joseph in Brussels (1849), modification of the Palais de la Nation (Senate Chamber 1847-1849)
  • Bruno Renard
Place Saint-Pierre à Tournai (c.1850)
  • Pierre Bruno Bourla
Museum and entry hall of the Académie des beaux-arts in Antwerp (1841)
New Architects
  • 1836 Auguste Payen
Former Royal Observatory of Brussels (1826-1832, led by Nicolas Roget), Pavilions of the Porte d'Anderlecht (1832), Pavilions of the Porte de Ninove (1832-34), Pavilions of the Porte de Namur (1836), Great Lock of Brussels (1840), several railway stations, of which the oldest is the Gare de Bruxelles-Midi (1864-1869)
  • 1841 Louis Minard
Church of Saint Martin in Melle (1841), Orangery of the horticultural school of Melle, Church of Saint Adrien of Adegem (1843-1844), Minard Theatre in Ghent (1847)
  • 1847 J.P.J. Peeters and G. Hansotte
Church of Saints Jean-et-Nicolas in Schaerbeek (1847-1850)
Poelaert was an eclectic architect who has some neoclassical achievements to his credit
extension of the Place des barricades (1849), restoration of the la Monnaie Theatre following fire (1855-1860)
  • 1855 Émile Coulon
Church of Saint-Martin in Quenast (1855), Church of Saint-Michel in Monstreux, Nivelles (1859)

Neoclassical Eclecticism (1865-1909)[edit]

Palais des Colonies
Tervuren, Albert-Philippe Aldophe, 1897
Royal Galleries of Oostende
Charles Girault, 1905

King Leopold II (1865-1909) was a prodigious builder, who launched various constructions of large buildings to demonstrate the prestige of the monarchy.

However, during his reign, the Eclectical style, appeared with Poelaert under Leopold I became predominant, mixing various forms from neo-Romanesque, Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque as well as neoclassical schools.

Neoclassicism under Leopold II was no exception. Some buildings from this period, such as the Bourse de Bruxelles or Palais de Justice were openly eclectic, others cited below, can be broadly considered as neoclassical, without however exempting them from the banner of characteristic decorative eclecticism.

Note that many of the buildings commissioned by Leopold II incorporated his monogram, consisting of two letters L symmetrically

Cité Fontainas (with the architecht Trappeniers, 1867), work on the Senate building (1883-1886)
Design of the Quartier des Squares (1875), work on the la Monnaie Theatre (1876), Cinquantenaire Palace : colonades (1880), north and north-east halls(1880, now the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces), south east hall, known as the « Palace of the People » (1888, now Autoworld), extension of the Senate chamber (1903)
  • 1892 Charles Thirion
Great Theatre of Verviers (1892)
  • 1897 Albert-Philippe Aldophe
Palais des Colonies in Tervuren (1897)
Extension of the Royal Palace of Laeken (1902), Cinquantenaire Arch (1904), Royal galleries of Oostende (1905), Royal Museum of Central Africa (1905-1910)
Façade of the Royal Palace of Brussels (1904), Royal Military Academy in Brussels (1907, with Henri Van Dievoet)

Late Neoclascissism (1910-1980)[edit]

In the 20th century, neoclassicism nearly disappeared, swept away by new waves of architectural styles including Art nouveau (which was very popular in Brussels), Art Deco, Modernism and functionalism.

In Brussels, the survival of the style is owed to the planning laws governing the construction of buildings in the vicinity of Brussels Park, as well as the desire to preserve the stylistic unity of the neighborhood.

  • 1910 François Malfait
Château de la Solitude in Auderghem (1910-1912)
  • 1920 Oscar Van de Voorde
Belgische Bank van de Arbeid (1920, Ghent)
  • 1930 Michel Polak
Tractebel Headquarters (1930, Brussels)
  • 1950 André and Jean Polak
« Royal Atrium » (1950-1959, rue Royale 60-68 in Brussels)
  • 1966 Christian Housiaux, Hugo Van Kuyck, Pierre Guillissen
Headquarters of the Société Générale de Belgique (1966-1980, Brussels, rue Royale 20-40)
  • 1972-1974 Christian et Jean-Pierre Housiaux
Extension of the headquarters of the Union Minière du Haut Katanga (1977, Brussels, situated on the rue du Marais 21)

Monumentalist Classical Architecture (1929-1959)[edit]

During the Interwar period, a style developed in several European countries using neoclassical architecture on a much bigger (monumental) scale.

In the 1930s, this was often associated with totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, but the style is often wrongly labeled as Fascist architecture like Stalinist architecture, Nazi architecture or Soft Portuguese style. However, it was also found in democratic countries like Belgium, France (for instance the Palais de Chaillot), Great Britain and the United States.

Postmodernism (after 1980)[edit]

At the end of the 20th century, neoclassicism reappeared in a revitalized form incorporated in the Postmodern Style. This postmodern neoclassicism is most commonly used in the construction of offices and municipal buildings.

Headquarters of SWIFT (1989, La Hulpe)
  • 1989 José Vanden Bossche
« Orion Center » (IWT), boulevard Bischoffsheim 21-25 (avec Fr.Schilling)
  • 1993 Bureau d'architectes ASSAR
Town square of Auderghem (1993-1994)
« Goemaere » (« Thilly Van Eessel I »), chaussée de Wavre 1945 (1988-1998)
  • 1994 Wolf et Conreur
« Rozendal Business Park » (Terhulpsesteenweg 6, Albert I-laan 2, Hoeilaart)
  • 1995 Jacques Cuisinier
Hôtel Méridien (1995, Brussels, opposite the central station)
  • 1996 « Roosevelt Business Park » (avenue Roosevelt 104 in Genval)


  1. ^ The reconstruction of the College Saint-Jean-en-isle of Liège, after 1754, was the work of the Italian architect Gaetano Matteo Pisoni, although Renoz is responsible for the implementation, , the production is not neoclassical Pisoni but rather the result of a mixture of baroque and classicism is can not be traced back to the start of production by Renoz in 1754.