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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Flagey building, Place Flagey and the nearby lake are worth a visit.
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.
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.
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.
It is a large and beautiful example of Art Deco. Curving volumes, nice surfaces and simple detailing make a good mix.
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.
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.
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,
the ceiling fans and lights, the little tubular wall lights. There was a nice bar area as well.
The 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.
The lessons we can learn from Glasgow and Edinburgh
How parts of the town centre look today
Dumfries town centre has a mix of building styles, ages and types. Some re-developed buildings have a modern appearance, while others are more traditional. A varied streetscape is created from buildings with a mixed appearance. Some individual buildings and vistas are pleasing, distinctive and make a strong contribution to the identity of the town. Property maintenance standards vary. Efforts have been made to improve the quality of public spaces, to improve the ground surfaces and to provide appropriate street furniture.
The businesses are a fairly typical retail mix. Towards either end of the High Street are two department stores. They are located in re-developed, modern buildings. These bigger shops and the Loreburne Centre act as anchors and contain the main retail shopping area. The Loreburne Centre has a covered, indoor shopping arcade and shops which face directly onto the High Street.
Re-development is proposed at the Southergate Centre.
Problem or opportunity?
UK shopping has changed. While this is reflected in a changed business mix, empty retail shops are more commonplace in many towns.
Despite several recent expensive efforts to improve things, parts of Dumfries town centre in and around the High Street continue to look neglected. There is a perception that some nearby towns have been able to manage things better. Amid expressions of concern, there is a wish for clarity on the best way to improve things.
If people no longer wish to use the town centre so much for retail shopping, what else could the area be used for? Who should control and regulate the use of this space – government, property owners, the public or a balanced mix? Should the town centre be re-purposed? What other town changes might also be necessary, and how should any new projects be balanced and managed? How would it be a better place for local people to use? What part should tourism and visitor attraction play? Crucially, how do we build agreement and make progress? Lastly and most important, who should pay for all this?
As an artist, and interested in visual things, I also hope for a solution which looks good and works well.
There is little housing in the town centre but a lot to the south and west. The Georgian town houses are now mostly offices. Near the town centre there are many Victorian buildings and a good deal of later, in-fill development. There has also been plenty of new housing in the suburbs. Lots of people clearly want to live in Dumfries.
There are two Scottish Tourist Board 3-star hotels close to the High Street and others a little further out. Dumfries has a profusion of other hotels and Guest Houses.
Close to the town centre are two cinemas, a refurbished theatre and a leisure centre. There are also a primary and secondary school at the northern edge.
While the town Centre is fairly busy during the day, at night, apart from the town centre pubs and night clubs, it is mostly unused.
Now lets compare Dumfries’s situation with that of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
How Glasgow has Changed
Glasgow was once a great manufacturing city. Now the shipyards are few, and the docks, steelworks, railway works and similar manufacturing industries have gone.
Thousands of workers jobs were lost.
When Glasgow lost these jobs, it also lost some of its self confidence and the city faced an uncertain future. Today a different and prosperous Glasgow is being made, perhaps symbolised by buildings such as the Armadillo, the Hydro and the tall new offices and hotels rising over the city centre. People may argue about how to continue to change Glasgow for the better, but I suspect there are not many who would argue that a corner has been turned in Glasgow’s history. Its a city which has acknowledged that some old industries and some of the old ways have gone. The past has, to some extent, been let go. Treasured bits are cherished and remembered, that’s an important thing to do. We shouldn’t deny the past, we acknowledge it.
Glasgow signalled its intention to move forward in a key event, the Garden Festival of 1988, and then won the City of Culture award in 1990. The garden festival was a strange experience. It was more a garden of curiosities, some of which had links to Glasgow’s past.
Many exotic structures- a tower, a roller coaster, giant teapots and others, posed alongside Shona Kinloch’s witty sculptures of Glasgow Dogs.
The festival was a great success.
Now Glasgow is facing the future not the past, and is a shopping, event and tourist destination.
Its also still a busy place, and a place to do business. Glasgow is still a manufacturing centre. The riverside, so long derelict, is transforming, and some of the business and work focus of Glaswegians has moved to new places in the city or around it.
Now many people from Dumfries use Glasgow in preference to their own town for weekend shopping, such is the attraction. Crucially, Glasgow is now an all year round tourist destination. Change in Edinburgh
Similarly in Edinburgh we see a year-round tourist industry which has become so successful that it almost swamps the city.
Efforts are already in place to spin-off some of this tourism into other parts of Scotland. So how do we move forward in Dumfries?
Bringing change to Dumfries using History, Heritage and Archaeology
Our possible way forward may be to capitalise on the history of the town, on figures such as Bruce, Burns and Barrie. Their lives are interwoven with Dumfries’s past. They already have a presence here and we can build on that.
History and walking tours might be added to fixed museum or visitor type presentations. The Whitesands leading to the Burns centre at the Millhouse and Camera Obscura lend themselves to this kind of experience. We could develop High Street visitor centres to interpret each of their stories, and use these centres to refer to whatever existing structures can be found in the town. Perhaps we could offer re-enactments and re-interpretation in place of hard historical or archaeological structures. Such events as the passing presence of Bonnie Prince Charlie and an interpretation of the Georgian architectural area, or the John Paul Jones Story could add variety and depth to the perception of the town and also offers the chance to link to existing visitor centres locally and elsewhere in Scotland.
We know from visitor surveys that Scotland’s history attracts and motivates almost a third of Scotland’s tourists. Fifty million people across the world now claim Scots ancestry. In an uncertain world Scotland is a safe visitor destination. Let’s not forget our European neighbours either. Scotland’s profile is high at the moment. We are in favour. If we refurbish our town centre and present carefully to all our visitors, we should do well.
Private sector investment is the key ingredient to all this. Private funding would be needed to help create a tourist friendly infrastructure such as good new central hotels and amenities, restaurants and suitable entertainment and a cafe culture and/or night life. A new core could exist alongside existing businesses. Shopping would need to be re-purposed to reflect both tourist and local needs. To what extent can we re-use the existing building stock and involve local businesses?
As Edinburgh and Glasgow have shown, tourism is now an all-year event. If just a few more of those visiting Edinburgh or Glasgow could be coaxed into visiting Dumfries for a few nights then that would make quite a change. Let’s also not forget that Edinburgh is booming. It is a great business centre. If we were successful down here with more tourism, what sort of people and businesses would we attract?
We could also add to other growth initiatives already in place.
We might signal this change to others and to ourselves just as Glasgow did. A one-off iconic festival on a Dumfries theme might precede and pave the way for change. We could manage this fairly soon and it might help with drawing business interest in redevelopment.
Our first visit had been in late September. It was a warm, dry day and began with a challenging morning, navigating across Paris to see Le Corbusier’s studio. The tourist directions were imprecise. Several streets and half an hour later, we were climbing the seven flights of stone stairs to see the apartment on 24 Rue Nungesser et Coli, near the western edge of the Peripherique.
It was worth the climb, as we and about 40 Chinese architecture students, discovered. Not much was being said, but everyone was looking really hard, judging, evaluating, admiring and remembering it all.
We remembered features like that little grey spiral staircase that leads to the roof terrace or the huge asymmetric pivoting room dividers. A very special place.
Back in the centre of Paris, we had had a quick lunch. Then, for the first time, we went into the Luxembourg gardens by the gate on the Boulevard Saint-Michel.
The gardens sit close to the Sorbonne on one side and Montparnasse on the other.We walked, surrounded by people both coming and going, down a broad avenue under a canopy of tall trees whose leaves were beginning to go brown. You could have been in a painting by Renoir
Originally built for Marie de Medici in the 16th century, and in Italian style, what was once only for royalty is now free for everyone. People have made this space their own, for this park has been much altered, changed, and added to.
It is a place with a great sense of space, elegance and style. People go there to take a break from shopping, business or study and to relax and to enjoy the company of others. Its a great placeto people watch.
It is very much a planned park with an axial layout from the pond and Senate building to the north down to the Observatory gate to the south. It has many individual, even quirky features including an “English Garden” with broad, curved gravel paths and glimpsed vistas in the South-West corner.
There are touches of formality which mingle with informality, for groups can sit on patches of grass on the long axis to south, near the children’s play area. Otherwise there is no walking or sitting on grass here.
Instead, this Paris garden has something better to offer, chairs! Chairs in profusion, of different shapes for sitting up, for reclining and even for putting your feet upon. Sturdy, hefty metal chairs which you can arrange in any number or way you want, so if there’s three of you or eight of you, you can suit yourselves as to how you fix the arrangement. None of your British style fixed park benches here. Citizens and visitors alike get to choose where they sit. The garden’s most enviable feature is the ease with which ordinary people relax and luxuriate in such splendid surroundings.
At what I like to think is the centre of the gardens, there is a large octagonal pond with a central fountain, surrounded by a broad circular walkway. Here there are fancy and beautiful flower borders of great variety which are close to the paths.
On both sides there are broad flights of steps leading up to balustraded terraces, topped with big floral urns. The walkwaysround the pond have good sized palms and oleanders growing in very large Versailles tubs, punctuating the space and offeringsmall pools of shade. Thesebroad, very grand terraces also have a number of sculptures, some of which are very beautiful. A natural arena is formed, and this is a very popular place, with plenty of people coming and going. Amongst this, the gardeners go about their work, pruning and tending the trees and borders.
To the north of this is the Palais du Medici, the home of the French Senate and a seat of Government business. From its northern entrance, on the Rue de Vaugirard, black government cars come and go.
We were sitting below the terrace under a palm, when we faintly heard the sound of a band playing in the distance. So, along with various others, we moved towards the sound, found seats, brought them over and sat to listen. Again we were positioned comfortably, this time under dappled shade, a little distance from the bandstand. The music combined with the setting to give a feeling of perfect contentment. People would walk by, hesitate, then pull up a seat and listen. Just as freely, some rose to leave.
Every time the band stopped, the bandmaster stood up and solemnly and at some length addressed the crowd, but we couldn’t hear a thing as he had no microphone. Then he would sit down and the band in their dark blue uniforms with silver buttons, would start up again. It was very funny, and the audience were quietly amused.
After a while we felt thirsty, and spotted the Pavillon de la Fontaine Caféwhere you can eat or drink. Its very popular, quite costly, but very good and fairly close to the bandstand. It has outdoor seating, with umbrellas, and its another great place for people watching. As the long, hot afternoon wore on towards evening, like many others, we had found the perfect spot, the temperature was just right. We were sitting in a little crowd in open shade under tall trees while one of us had a glass of beer and the other a glass of wine. We were talking about the morning’s visit, comparing notes and photographs. It was so comfortable that seven o’clock came round before we knew it. The conversation turned to dinner. Whereto eat, and would it be necessary to book a table?
So a slow journey then, past the children still in the sandpit at the Observatory end, past the office workers hurrying home, and back up over gently rising ground towards the sound of Paris traffic, towards Montparnasse and our hotel.
For me as a schoolboy studying higher Art in the 60’s, Europe was about the architecture of classical Greece and Rome.
For me as an Art teacher in a Scottish Secondary School it meant Art Nouveau in Scotland Vienna, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
It also meant two trips with school kids to Venice to see some of the best of European art and architecture from the late Gothic and the Renaissance.
But Modernism and the International style were the things which I found more relevant to the way we live, to making Art and to Designing. Of course as a teacher, there was always also the influence of the Bauhaus, with the magnetic pull of it’s teaching methods and its achievements.
As I studied Modernism and read more deeply about it, I realised it was much more than just a “cool” look. It was in fact underpinned by great ideas, a way thinking and a philosophy, and that these ideas were European ideas, not British. For Modernism and its ideas found little comfort in the Britain of the Empire.
Instead, these ideas about architecture and design popped up in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Czechoslovakia the 1920’s and 30’s before the Nazis came to power. These same ideas then found their way to America and flourished there.
Now today in Europe and America some exceptional buildings in this style survive. Some have been painstakingly restored and can now be visited.
And these visits are a revelation, for they showcase the best that can be done – we can see genius at work.
Nor is it just about the buildings themselves, but about wider the communities in which they are located. It’s also about the complex social organisation and daily life of European towns and cities today.
This then, is quite a different European experience to two weeks on a beach in the sun. But there’s something else. For knowledge of these buildings also poses questions for us, such as “How do we in Scotland ensure our cultural connections with such beautiful and desirable European ideas?” “How can we show people what’s out there?” “How can we share our appreciation of this fantastic stuff?”. And, of course how can we continue to do this in the midst of British political indifference, even hostility?
And also, why should we put this connection at risk? This thought coupled with the feeling that having the right European connection may also depend on moving towards Scottish Independence.
So I do declare my preferences. Brexit is not for me!
The posts and videos on this site, record something of my reaction to what I found In Europe, whether about Art, Music, Performance, Film or Design. Occasional blogs are added from time to time.
As for travelling there and having a look for yourself?
I would recommend it to anyone!