Actors and Vehicles of Architectural Criticism (8)

Antwerp Architectural Exhibitions as Critical Actor in Belgium 1883-1972
Ellen Van Impe
Centre for Flemish Architectural Archives, Vlaamse Architectuur Instituut
(Flanders Architecture Institute)

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Société centrale d’architecture en Belgique (1872-2011) and its periodical L’Émulation (1874-1939) can be pointed out as both the foremost actor ànd vehicle of architectural criticism in Belgium. For a long time the periodical was the only specialized architectural journal in the country and in any case the longest-running architectural periodical Belgium has ever had. With the bloom of the Belgian architectural press in the interwar period and the (generally more studied) avant-garde periodicals such as 7 Arts or Bâtir, the by then rather traditional L’Émulation stood its ground. Rather than analysing the criticism as formulated in the articles in the journal, my paper would like to scrutinize the role of the architectural exhibitions organised by the SCAB and reported upon in L’Émulation – from 1883 onwards up till its centenary exhibition in 1972 – as actors of criticism. These exhibitions often combined historical drawings with contemporary representations of architectural projects. What makes them particularly interesting is that they did not only address a professional audience of architects, but also the ‘sister arts’ of painting and sculpture, and eventually the public at large, in an effort to forge a socially visible position for the architect and architecture. This position was largely inspired, from the early years of the SCAB onwards, by the editors’ ties with the academy of fine arts. Hence ‘l’architecte-artiste’ was the championed architect type and architecture’s artistic side (as arte del disegno) was being emphasized. Upon its centenary in 1972 the SCAB organized an exhibition entitled Architectuur, tekenkunst? Architecture, art du dessin? which partly consisted of the same pieces of the first 1883 exhibition. The sequence of exhibitions from 1883 to 1972 therefore offers an opportunity to make a bilan of nearly a century of architectural criticism through exhibitions.


Ellen Van Impe (b. 1976) studied Germanic languages and art history at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the University of Manchester. She defended her PhD Architectural Historiography in Belgium 1830-1914 in 2008 (KU Leuven). She works as a project leader at the Centre for Flemish Architectural Archives (CVAa) since 2008, co-authoring several manuals on architectural archives, thematic archive guides and articles on the archives of Belgian architects and on architectural periodicals. She publishes, furthermore, on the reception of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Belgium, on the Belgian Gothic Revival and on nineteenth-century architectural historiography. In 2013 she co-curated the exhibition Henry van de Velde. Letters of architects (Royal Library, Brussels).

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