‘Baukultur’ in Brussel

Kleinschalig industrieel erfgoed van bouwbedrijven als drager van de productieve stad


  • Frederik Vandyck Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
  • Matthijs Degraeve rije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)




Brussels’ urban space, like that of many other cities, is dotted with evidence of a productive industrial past. The activities that took place there were generally not geared to mass production for export, but to small-scale manufacturing aimed at supplying the needs of local city dwellers. That small-scale manufacturing industry included members of the building trade such as contractors, joiners and builders’ merchants who catered to the demand for housing in an ever-expanding city. Their business premises formed a vital link in the creation and renovation of the urban fabric.
            This article focuses on the values of small-scale industrial heritage from the building trade, which is under enormous pressure in a city like Brussels. The dynamics of constantly rising real estate prices make residential redevelopment a lucrative investment. Thanks to gentrification, many workshops are being converted into housing and former warehouses are falling prey to large-scale property development.
            Real estate dynamics, scaling-up and changing market conditions are also contributing to the disappearance of the small-scale, live-work fabric that fosters a beneficial mix of functions. The expertise and skills that for centuries have supplied the basic needs of the city in a sustainable manner are then lost. In light of growing traffic congestion and unemployment, academics and urban planners are becoming increasingly convinced of the need for permanently embedded, city-servicing economic actors like building businesses. Thus, even today, small-scale industrial heritage is vital to the functioning of the urban economy, in that offers the possibility of spatially organizing or reorganizing city-servicing activities within a dense urban fabric.
            Inspired by integrated concepts of heritage, we therefore argue in favour of a broadening of industrial heritage values aimed at anchoring the use of such locations in time and space. We take issue with an exclusively material approach to industrial heritage by pointing out the immaterial heritage value of a continuity of productive use.
            After a brief theoretical reflection on the value of small-scale industrial heritage in the city, we examine the historical evolution of Brussels’ industrial heritage at the macro level between 1890 and 1970, the period in which the development of the suburbs of Brussels was in full swing. We use a series of exemplary cases to illustrate the different trajectories of continuity and discontinuity of heritage on the one hand, and productive use of building trade locations in Brussels on the other. We also try to get to grips with the motivations of businesses that abandon the city, cease to exist or manage to adapt to volatile market conditions.
            This article uses a selection of cases to challenge a purely material approach to industrial heritage and makes the case for further research into the question of how individual heritage legislation might also recognize immaterial heritage values in historical business activity on a particular site or in an industrial building.


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F. Vandyck, I. Bertels en I. Wouters, ‘On the Architecture. Use and Embedding of Small-Scale Construction Workshops in the Brussels Capital Region (1894-1969)’, in: Water, Doors and Buildings. Studies in the History of Construction. The Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of the Construction History Society, Cambridge 2019, 689-703.

M. Culot (red.), Inventaire visuel de l’architecture industrielle de l’agglomération de Bruxelles, Brussel 1980.

J. Bentham e.a., Manifesto for the Foundational Economy, Manchester 2013.

J. Jacobs, The Economy of Cities, New York 1969.

K. Borret, ‘Brussel, productieve stad par excellence or by default?’, Ruimte 28 (2015), 26-29; S. De Boeck, D. Bassens en M. Ryckewaert, ‘Making space for a more foundational economy. The case of the construction sector in Brussels’, Geoforum 105 (2019), 67-77.

Ondanks pleidooien voor een dergelijke wetenschappelijke basis voor de studie van industrieel erfgoed door Linters, Nijhof en Scholliers en Becuwe e.al. is daar tot dusver amper verandering in gekomen: A. Linters, De wortels van Flanders Technology. Industrieel erfgoed, industriële archeologie in Vlaanderen, Leuven 1987, 275; E. Nijhof en P. Scholliers, Het tijdperk van de machine. Industriecultuur in België en Nederland, Brussel 1996, 209; F. Becuwe e.a., Onderzoeksbalans Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen – Industrieel erfgoed, 2010, https://onderzoeksbalans.onroerenderfgoed.be/onderzoeksbalans/bouwkundig/architectuurgeschiedenis/industrieel.

Deze werden in 2011 vastgesteld door TICCIH (The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage) en ICOMOS (The International Council on Monuments and Sites): ICOMOS en TICCIH, ‘Dublin Principles’, art. 8. Joint ICOMOS – TICCIH Principles for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage Sites, Structures, Areas and Landscapes, http://ticcih.org/about/about-ticcih/dublin-principles/.

H. Lardner, ‘Conservation plans’, in: J. Douet (red.), Industrial Heritage Re-tooled. The TICCIH guide to Industrial Heritage Conservation, Lancaster 2012, 129-135.

H. De Vuyst, J. De Schepper en K. Stevens, ‘Herbestemming van industrieel erfgoed’, Monumenten & Landschappen 24 (2005), 6-21; E. Real, ‘Reconversions. L’architecture industrielle réinventée’, In Situ. Revue des patrimoines 26 (2015).

H. Oevermann en H. Mieg, ‘Studying Transformations of Industrial Heritage Sites. Synchronic Discourse Analysis of Heritage Conservation, Urban Development, and Architectural Production’, in: Industrial Heritage Sites in Transformation. Clash of Discourses, New York, 2015, 12-29; F.C. Merciu e.a., ‘Conversion of Industrial Heritage as a Vector of Cultural Regeneration’, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 122 (2014), 162-166; P.F. Xie, ‘A Life Cycle Model of Industrial Heritage Development’, Annals of Tourism Research 55 (2015), 141-154.

I. Poulios, ‘Moving Beyond a Values-Based Approach to Heritage Conservation’, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 12 (2010) 2, 170-185.

M. Buzzelli en R. Harris, ‘Cities as the Industrial Districts of Housebuilding’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30 (2006) 4, 894-917.

Europese ministers van cultuur e.a., Davos Declaration 2018. Towards a high-quality Baukultur for Europe, Davos 2018, https://davosdeclaration2018.ch/context/ (geraadpleegd op 30 september 2019).

De term Baukultur werd onvertaald overgenomen uit de Duitse taal omdat er geen juist equivalent bestaat in het Engels. De Davos-verklaring wil zo Baukultur uitdrukkelijk onderscheiden van gerelateerde, maar niet geheel dezelfde begrippen als ‘architectonische kwaliteit’. Europese ministers van cultuur e.a., Davos Declaration 2018 (noot 14).

De economisch-geografische en typomorfologische logica van het bedrijfspatrimonium van Brusselse houtbouwers is uitgebreider besproken in M. Degraeve e.a., ‘Spatial Analysis of Small Timber Construction Enterprises in Brussels, 1880-1980’, in: Studies in the History of Services and Construction. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Conference of the Construction History Society, Cambridge 2018, 427-442.

M. Degraeve, S. De Boeck en F. Vandyck, ‘Building Brussels. Een interdisciplinair onderzoek naar de Brusselse bouwsector, 1795-2015’, Stadsgeschiedenis 13 (2018) 1, 41-58.

J.-F. Orianne, S. Van Rechem en S. Thys, Kunstambachten, designberoepen en restauratie ambachten in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, Brussel 2002, 101-102; P. Candaele, ‘Une maison qui ne laisse pas de marbre. Renover les vieux marbres, c’est possible mais les derniers artisans se font rares’, Le Soir 16 mei 1997.

M. Degraeve e.a., ‘Spatial Analysis of Small Timber Construction Enterprises in Brussels, 1880-1980’, in: W. James, P. Campbell en A. Boyington (red.), Studies in the History of Services and Construction. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Conference of the Construction History Society, 2018, 427-442.

F. Vandyck, M. Degraeve en S. De Boeck, interview met schrijnwerker Christian Vander Velden, Elsene, 6 februari 2019.

Elsene, Archieven Stedenbouw, Travaux Publics (T.P.) 489 (1908) en T.P. 423 (1910).

Dit geldt evenzeer voor grootschalige bouwbedrijven, zie M. Degraeve e.a., ‘Spatial management of contractors. An analysis of the industrial sites of the Louis De Waele enterprise in Brussels (1867-1988)’, in: I. Wouters e.a. (red.), Building Knowledge, Constructing Histories. Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress on Construction History, 2018, 527-535.

Canal.Brussels, ‘Inhuldiging Bouwmaterialendorp’, 2018. https://canal.brussels/nl/content/inhuldiging-bouwmaterialendorp (geraadpleegd op 8 juli 2019).




Vandyck, F., & Degraeve, M. (2019). ‘Baukultur’ in Brussel: Kleinschalig industrieel erfgoed van bouwbedrijven als drager van de productieve stad. Bulletin KNOB, 118(4), 20–35. https://doi.org/10.7480/knob.118.2019.4.4308