Mark Lamster | Essays

Aimez-Vous Braem? Antwerp’s Little-Known Master

Do you like Renaat Braem? I'm guessing you've never even heard of Renaat Braem, which is a shame, as he was one of the more compelling architectural figures of the previous century. If he is familiar at all, it is probably from his Politie (Police) Tower in Antwerp, a skyscraping cathedral of brutalist form that locals tend to either love or loathe, and rarely leaves anyone feeling indifferent. This is apt, as Braem was a spirited polemicist and design critic who liked to stir up debate. In 1968, he authored a treatise on Belgian architecture and urban planning entitled "The Ugliest Country in the World." That Braem should be defined by a police headquarters is, on the other hand, ironic, as he was also a committed leftist and often at odds with public authority. (He was imprisoned by the Gestapo as a communist, for instance.) The Politie Tower was, in addition, not originally intended for the police, but as a general government administration building. 

Braem was a draftsman of exceptional ability. His early work was very much in the spirit of the Amsterdam school architects (Berlage, de Klerk), but he grew more radical over time. He spent several years in the studio of Le Corbusier. His work, once very much in the International Style model, became expressionistic and brutalist. There was often a social component to it; he was a utopian, a schemer of grand schemes to reinvent (and sometimes destroy) the city as it was. I frankly wish I knew more about Braem myself, but there is precious little on the architect published in English. The website Renaat Braem 1910-2010 is a good place to start. His Antwerp home is a museum. A beautiful 2-volume monograph on the architect was published on his centenary, but it is, alas, in Dutch. 

A few images, to whet the appetite.

The Police Tower. 

Kiel housing project. 

Brussels University administrative building.

The Braem house.

Middleheim Pavilion

Comments [2]

Hw about this one: http://www.a33.be/uploads/FotoBooks/a33/337/3009FW01.jpg
or this Braem renovation project:
Flip VW

There must be something in the water in Antwerp- several more very out of the box thinkers are from there, and are some of my favorites in their field-

There is Walter Van Beirendonck-http://www.waltervanbeirendonck.com/
Whose take on fashion is amazing- wish I could afford more of his clothes.

And there is Panamarenko-
Builder of zeppelins, flying boats, and strap on mechanical legs.

Both still live in Antwerp.


Jobs | May 19