Architecture: Middle Ages Vs Modernism.

Posted: August 25, 2013 in History/Philosophy, Society
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Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, … Belgium has a lot of interesting cities. The amount of tourists visiting all these cities show their popularity. All those cities spent the past years a huge amount of money on renovation. The city centers all look like we have never left the Late Middle Ages or Renaissance behind. I obviously applaud this respect for our historical heritage. But the respect for Flander’s 14th – 17th century architecture shows a remarkable contrast with the disdain towards modernist architecture. An unconscious prejudice about historical importance or a marketing move for economical purposes?

It isn’t fake, but it ain’t that Medieval either. All over Europe, 19th century romanticism has deeply influenced the architecture in our cities. Influenced by the romantic ideal of knights and princesses, heavily damaged Medieval buildings got renovated and made more Medieval. Towers and merlons were added and are still present. One of the most extreme examples that come to mind is Het Gravensteen in Ghent. The distorted links with the past doesn’t make Ghent less beautiful (personally, I suggest a visit to Ghent instead of Bruges!). But it does nibble away the argument in favor of huge investments in medieval architecture for the preservation of historical important buildings.

Het Gravensteen.

Het Gravensteen.

Do renovations in Renaissance architecture have a higher return on investment rate? If you would like to see a modernist house in Belgium, you will probably need to google it first to find one. In my direct environment I know two modernist houses. One of them has been completely renovated a few years ago and has lost nearly everything of its original design. In general, Belgian families never build that many modernist houses. Modernism, while it had some popularity, has always been the architecture of the government. Then again, I’m pretty sure castles wasn’t the house of the average peasant family in the Middel Ages! Nevertheless, Belgians prefer their farms and the idyllic past.

You can walk through Times Square and only pass tourists. No need to cross the ocean,  the Grand Place in Brussels will give you the same experience! We have a great deal of tourists from the Far East and the USA. It’s quite understandable that they prefer seeing buildings that aren’t available in their countries. Their preference goes  to the little streets and houses with inscriptions like “1584.”

When both Belgians and foreigners prefer the historical buildings, it does seem like a good investment to renovate those buildings. Yet, I do wish for more respect for the modernist buildings of the mid 20th century. In a few years we might look around and realise we took them all down.


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