First of all: what’s Banad you may be wondering? Well, Banad is short for Brussels Art Nouveau Art Deco, an event hosted by the non-profit Explore Brussels. It’s a ‘festival’ which takes place over three weekends in March and celebrates the beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in Brussels. Some of these are open to the public all year round, but a lot of them exclusively open their doors for this event. You have the chance to fulfil your nosiness and at the same time learn some interesting facts about the Brussels architecture scene. Sounds interesting? That’s what I thought. So I went and bought my ticket for eight visits spread over three Sundays. Here’s a glimpse of the first batch!
I didn’t have permission to make pictures everywhere, so you’ll have to go see for yourself if you really want a glimpse of these spectacular interiors.
If you’re familiar with Brussels – and even if you’re not – you may already know this building. Flagey is a cultural venue located in the Ixelles area where you can go for concerts, movies, drinks… Before all of this though, it was the headquarter of the ‘Institut National de Radiodiffusion’ (the national radio institute) of Belgium. During the Interbellum, more precisely between 1935 and 1938, the design of Joseph Diongre was executed. The architecture is a mix of Art Nouveau, Modernism and the School of Amsterdam. If you give it a closer look, you might even find some resemblances with a boat…
The building originally had no less than seventeen studios. They were all designed to have the perfect acoustic, among others making use of ‘silent spaces’ between floors to assure that. Studio 4 was even the biggest radio studio at the time (bigger than the one from the BBC for example) with a surface of 1000 m²! After the introduction of the tv in Belgium, the building sadly became to small and quickly got abandoned. Its history after that is quite rough: it almost got destroyed in the 80’s, got recognised as a national monument in 1994, asbestos was found everywhere in the building and a lot of money was invested to assure the reopening.
Nowadays, luckily, Flagey is buzzing with cultural vibes. And if you’re in for a drink, don’t forget to check out Café Belga. It’s situated on the corner of the building and definitely one of the ‘cult’ cafés in Brussels.
Palais de la Folle Chanson
Whereas Flagey is more or less accessible all year long, this ‘palace’ isn’t. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones to be living here of course. Palais de la Folle Chanson (or Palace of the Crazy Song) was one of the earlier (1928) housing complexes for the bourgeoisie. After WWI housing prices went up drastically and it became almost impossible to buy a whole house. The Bourgeoisie wanted to own something nonetheless, so a fancy apartment in a nice neighbourhood made for the perfect compromise. Servants had a separate room under the attic, there was a doorman to welcome guests and to separate the incoming mail, a vide-ordure (a central garbage chute)… It was luxurious in a more modern way.
This building is a good example of the Art Deco movement. The lines are quite structured and geometrical, somewhat in contrast to the more ‘organic’ Art Nouveau. The rotunda at the front porch makes you think of the Bozar building, also in Brussels. The architect, Antoine Courtens, tried to not only put an effort towards the ‘big’ architectural structures, but also towards details like the lifts, stairway, mirrors… To make the bourgeois even more at ease, the division of the apartments resembled that of a typical Brussels home. There was a reception area, an intimate part and a domestic one.
As I said, Palais de la Folle Chanson isn’t normally open to the public. You’ll probably have to wait another year to have a look inside, but it’s definitely worth it!
Palais du Congo
Although situated just in front of the Palais de la Folle Chanson, Palais du Congo is a little different. The building was designed in 1930 by Jean Florian Collin – later known as the founder of Etrimo. When entering the building, you immediately have a less majestic feeling than with Palais de la Folle Chanson. The stairways are smaller, the ceilings are lower… Nonetheless, I wouldn’t mind living here at all – there’s actually an apartment for rent in the building, so it maybe worth checking out if you’re looking for a place and if you have some money to spend.
In the entry hall there are still some original details to be found. The wooden doors, the letter boxes, the floors, lamps… You’ve entered a little piece of history and that always feels nice. Here visitors had the chance to enter one of the apartments, which was very nicely decorated while still holding onto a lot of original elements. The fish bone floor and the kitchen tiling for example have never been replaced and are still in perfect shape. The current owner decorated it with the help of an interior designer and although it’s fairly modern, it really blends in perfectly. It totally made me want to redecorate my own place anyway.
As with the Palais de la Folle Chanson, you can’t visit this building just like that. You’ll have to wait until another possibility presents itself or till next year’s Banad of course!
You may have noticed so already, but this first Banad-weekend was totally up my alley. I am quite a curious person so I was pleased by the behind-the-scenes vibe. Combined with the architectural and historical aspect, it made for a perfect Sunday afternoon. Although you might have missed out on the first two visiting days, you may still have the possibility to visit some other buildings during the next two weekends. Check out their site if you want more information and who knows, maybe we’ll cross paths!