Category: Brussels

L’Archiduc bar and music venue, Rue Antoine Dansaert 6, Brussels 1000, Belgium

To sum it up in a nutshell, a beautiful Art Deco streamlined interior with quirky touches.
It is described by Trip advisor as “The coolest bar in Belgium”.
The interior design scheme swirls round the room including everything within itself. The control of the design elements is superb, and the confidence of it all is breathtaking, for there is also contradiction in the handling of the doorway ironwork and the streamlined interior. It’s made to look so easy and is so well done that you simply accept the contradiction and say “Of course, why not?”
But first you have to get past the plain and rather nondescript street facade.

facade

L’Archeduc is surrounded by larger, more impressive buildings. Although painted turquoise blue, this otherwise gives little hint of the splendours inside. It seems banal and provincial, of little consequence, giving little away to the casual passer-by. The best hints are the neat neon sign above the door and the soft ripple of the square leaded glass windows at street level.

doorway
The architectural adventure begins at the entrance. Here an extraordinary curving metal and glass affair of wonderful craftsmanship, contriving to be both modern and old, welcomes you. Subtle repeating curves in the flat wrought iron arched outer doorway are repeated in the plan of the curved inner bay. Its inner door of glass and iron is itself curved. Vertical strips of glass line the inner bay, allowing daylight to penetrate and giving glimpses of the street. While the doorway hints at rustic origins which agree with the delicately coloured leaded windows, they offer gentle contradiction to the rest of the modernist Deco interior.

window

The softly varied light given by the facade windows casts a mellow glow over the room and eliminates distractions from the street. This is always a room which looks in on itself, a private world.

pillars

The room has a rich bold colour scheme, where warm reds, dark purples and black feature lower down with cream and deep olive green appearing above.

bar2 At the left rear, and punctuating this sits the bar, with surfaces of richly varnished dark wood, gleaming mirrors and glass. You sit at chrome and leather bar stools; the bar counter is lit by creamy yellow porthole shaped light recesses. The lower ceiling height here give a feeling of cosiness and intimacy within the larger room space. Very rich and sophisticated!

Furnishings consist of tub seating and stools made of dark patterned cloth, are heavily worn, and compliment booths with deco style patterned cloth in red, a creamy yellow gold and blue-black and framed in glossy dark wood.

deco-booth-fabricgallery-end

Over all this and supported by part chromed pillars which frame the grand piano, The sweeping gallery edge has rails worthy of a ship, and fit over a solid modernist balcony edge which curves back into the wall behind. Beneath this edge are square recessed ceiling lights giving illumination to the bench seating below. The overall effect of this is similar to theatre, with an audience seated in the balcony taking part in the proceedings below. The vertical space offered within the tight plan is notable and well exploited. The curving lines of the balcony emphasise this and always draws your eye upwards to explore.
Its all simply fabulous design.

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DM

The city at night

 

the-city-at-night

What do you see here?

A street scene somewhere.
Cars, a pedestrian, apartment buildings with shops at ground level. The road in front seems broad, the prospect might be inviting or intriguing, for this scene seems a little untidy. Parked cars seem scattered across the roadspace.
The buildings seem quite new, they have a modern, fresh feel. Above the shops are the windows of apartments. People are living in them, and the lights are on in some of windows. We can see into some rooms.

The shops are small. These businesses are small town or from the edge of the city centre. Although their lights are also on, perhaps the workers have all gone home.

 

The sky is an evening sky, not quite dark yet, perhaps a summer evening. There is a watcher on one of the balconies.
Across the street, and reflected in the windows is an illuminated hotel sign.
So a mixed neighbourhood, homes, shops, hotels. Parked cars and a broad road. The city at night, inhabited and full of life and promise. If we use our imagination a little, we can picture ourselves as the watcher on the balcony, perhaps enjoying the view, living in the city and enjoying its benefits.

In fact this is Brussels in early August. Its between nine and ten in the evening. The air is still warm after a dry, sunny day. I was eating in a restaurant across the street and saw this. How different to my home town of Dumfries. There, houses and shops are more separate. In the evening the town centre is mostly silent and empty.

 

DM

Flagey, in Brussels

The Flagey building, Place Flagey and the nearby lake are worth a visit.

flagey-square

Place Flagey itself is a big irregular, informal, open public space. Many roads meet here. On two sides are apartment blocks with shops at ground level.

appt-flagey

The apartments are carefully composed facades of yellow brick, as is the Flagey building itself. The south west corner of the square touches the northern tip of the lake. The square has an intermittent spouting fountain area which locals braved with nonchalance. Trees are scattered round the edge, and there are two more modern public sculptures which which challenge the ’30s atmosphere.
On our visit a truck and PSVs were scattered across the square. This casualness hides a vigorous and contested re-development made between 2002 and 2008.

Place Flagey is situated south of central Brussels and at the top end of a little lake, about 15 minutes bus ride from the city centre. You arrive at a big glass-covered bus and tram stop situated to one side at the north end of the square.

We visited on a warm sunny morning, and had the immediate feeling of being in a good place. Why is that? It’s harder to define, we were enjoying the sun after a rainy day (it rains on average 200 days a year in Brussels).
That was one thing but we were also feeling relaxed. We had planned our route, and how it might fit in to the rest of our day. We had done some checking out on- line. We thought it looked interesting, that there might be quite a lot to see, but we weren’t sure as it seemed quite low-key. We had seen the lake on the map and thought we might enjoy walking round it to see the Cascade apartments on the other side. It seems to float above the lake like some medieval castle, yet at the same time, indisputably modern Art Deco.

cascades-from-lake

But when we got there, we realised that we weren’t just looking at the Flagey building, were were experiencing a living built environment- square, buildings and lake. Each part revealed something of the rest, and that invited movement through the space. In general it also offered a small glimpse into ordinary suburban life in Brussels. It hadn’t been primped for the tourists. Flaws and untidiness were allowed exist alongside things which were beautiful and interesting.

To begin with, we walked round the lake. We could see glimpses of buildings with mixed styles on the other side. Towards the far end, there was a man-made rocky grotto in the shade of trees, complete with broken classical columns.
The Cascade apartment building is a strong draw. We noticed couples from other countries drifting by, taking photos and smiling, happy to be there.

cascades-left

 

It is a large and beautiful example of Art Deco. Curving volumes, nice surfaces and simple detailing make a good mix.

cascades-entrancecascades-garage

But there were other interesting buildings, an apartment block and a modernist house to discover as well.
The lake appeared well cared for, with several duck houses spaced out along its length.
At the top end, swans, geese and ducks queued for breadcrumbs from local children. This activity served as a link with the public space and re-entry to the square.

In this complex space, life continued. People moved back and forth across it. Trams and buses came and went. Delivery vans blocked shop fronts. A man unloaded a trolley load of goods into a shop. A cafe couldn’t serve coffee because their machine had broken! A shop was being re-fitted.

furniture

There was even an external elevator moving furniture into an apartment building, and passers-by watching the little drama. All this in the morning sunshine while we looked and lingered.

flagey-from-lakeside

The Flagey building, formerly the I.N.R. (Institut National de Radiodiffusion), the name previously given to Belgian radio and television, is now subdivided and re-purposed. It is not particularly beautiful, but it is striking. It’s probably the reason visitors would initially go there. Unlike a monument or museum, it has limited public access at specific times. Perhaps it’s in transition, and sometime in the future will become just another restored museum, but for now it’s still a collection of working spaces. At the time of our visit, the only part we could find our way into was the cafe on the north-west corner.

Its has a genuine ’30s interior, much used and worn but very real. It’s also a popular, busy space. We liked the cafe tables,

cafe viewcafe-table

the ceiling fans and lights, the little tubular wall lights. There was a nice bar area as well.

cafe-barThe bar staff were all young men, apart from a girl at the counter which served food. The whole atmosphere was easy, relaxed and in no way challenging. As outsiders we felt completely unnoticed, we just blended in.

That’s what was nice about it all, the way it was. It has the charm of the old, and the everyday. Explained by the small comfortable changes which we see as we pass through it.

DM