We’ve unearthed some of the most striking and singular examples of the Belgian Brutalist movement, from sprawling social housing unit to private residential villa. Don’t mind the structural scaffolding, protective sheets and rain water buckets as, with everything remotely important to our national heritage, they tend to come with the package.

Photography: Thomas Ost

1.Sint- Martens- Latem’s Van Wassenhove Residence

Located in the secluded suburb of Sint-Martens-Latem just outside Ghent, this villa was originally constructed for Albert Van Wassenhove, a teacher enamoured by modernist design and arts. Designed by Juliaan Lampens in the early 70s, it is widely regarded as the architect’s most prominent design as well as a striking example of Belgium’s unique architectural movement.
A deconstructed block of raw concrete, the residence is meant to house just one person, standing firm, bunker-like, in its surrounding woodlands. Indoors, each area of the house is connected via an open-plan design, with the living room acting as the central artery. Wooden and angular-shaped glass details break the aggressiveness of the concrete whilst also creating a natural light display that adds to the house’s cosy charm. Having recently underwent extensive renovations on the initiative of local museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, the house now acts as an artist’s residence and a bed & breakfast, with year-round guided tours. We hear you might even be able to Airbnb it.

theword_brut_wass_016 copy
theword_brut_wassenh_010 copy 2
Brakelstraat 50
9830 Sint-Martens-Latem

2. Ostend’s municipal swimming pool

Constructed between 1969 and 1978 by Paul Felix and Jan Tanghe, Ostend’s municipal swimming pool boasts an impressive panoramic view of the North Sea through its glass walls underneath the dominant pentagonal ceiling. The complex, designed with self-sufficiency in mind, includes both an indoor and outdoor pool, the later surrounded by greenery for poolside lounging purposes. To the despair of Brutalist enthusiasts, who see in the local landmark a beloved classic, the building has been left in a state of decay following years of neglect, leading the city council to order it be demolished. One to visit soon.

theword_brut_ostpisc_015 copy
theword_brut_ostpisc_018 copy
Koningin Astridlaan 1
8400 Ostend

3. De Haan’s Park Atlantis

Park Atlantis, a holiday rental complex, is located just outside coastal favourite De Haan. Known as ‘Blekkaard’ to locals, it consists of two pyramidal blocks each with their own clusters of horizontally stacked honeycomb-shaped units. Every apartment has broad window-like doors, giving out onto concrete balconies that seem rather out of place on the complex’s white façade. And although it sits bang in the middle of the dunes, visible from miles away, the structure nonetheless manages to effortlessly blend into the North Sea landscape. Rather oddly, very little is known about the architect behind this unique complex other than his name (Marcel Dubois), the name of his firm (Jaminin Associés, although it remains unknown to Belgian specialists) and the year he supposedly built Atlantis (1974). To us, the mystery only adds to its architectural appeal.

theword_brut_atlantis_003 copy
theword_brut_atlantis_012 copy
Torenhofstraat 2
8420 De Haan

4. Harelbeke’s St Rita Church

One of Léon Stynen’s last architectural achievements, Harelbeke’s St-Rita church occupies an outsized space in the village. The isolated monolithic structure surrounded by linden trees acts as a landscape on its own, its overwhelming features adding to the environment rather than hijacking it. Indeed, despite its intimidating aesthetic and gigantic volumes, the church nonetheless manages to bestow peace and serenity upon its visitors. A follower of Le Corbusier, Stynen’s smart use of glass and striking ferroconcrete vertical columns instantly invite you to look up, a fact reinforced by diagonally mounting walls and an inclining floor surface towards the concrete altar. Currently in dire need of renovations, don’t be surprised to see emergency leak buckets and plastic protection sheets lying about.

theword_brut_strita_022 copy
theword_brut_strita_005 copy
Julius Sabbestraat 43
8530 Harelbeke

5. Louvain-la-Neuve’s Place des Sciences

Amongst the small number of planned cities, that is cities built entirely from scratch, in Belgium, Louvain-La-Neuve undoubtedly ranks as the most ambitious. Erected on a concrete slab that borders the Lauzelle forest, the student city is meant to be a prime case study of functionalist urban planning. While the entire town centre was constructed with only a nod to Brutalist tendencies, the university complex on the Place des Sciences is, on the other hand, unquestionably Brutalist in nature. Architect André Jacqmain, who was called upon by the Catholic University of Leuven to undertake the gargantuan task, made eager use of the functional and spatial possibilities of the pedestrian city to create a 13.000 square meter communal structure that up to today still functions as a library, an auditorium and a student cafeteria. Despite the unorthodox building that often rubbed against the neighbourhood, the interiors unanimously proved that brutalism also does beauty.

theword_brut_louvainln_003 copy
theword_brut_louvainln_025 copy
Place des Sciences
1348 Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve

 

6. Liège’s Sart-Tilman campus

Liege’s sprawling university campus was inaugurated in 1967 for the institution’s 150th birthday, and one sole agency was tasked with the ambitious project – the atelier Sart-Tilman – coordinated by Claude Strebelle. Assisted by other architects, he transformed the 2000ha-forested area into a panoramic architectural landscape. One of the most impressive buildings on the site is Strebelle’s own central heating unit. Rooted in brutalist principles, it combines aesthetic beauty and functionality, the pyramidal-shaped structure standing proud in the midst of the surrounding greenery, softening the harsh concrete used. A prime example of Brutalist Belgian architecture in all its splendour.

theword_brut_sarttil_020 copy
theword_brut_sarttil_001 copy
Sart-Tilman village
4031 Angleur (Liège)

 

7. Dilbeek’s CC Westrand

Dilbeek’s cultural centre Westrand was built with the intention to reinforce the Flemish identity in Brussels’ periphery. Architect Alfons Hoppenbrouwers initially drew up an elaborate plan that included a multitude of spaces, each of them connected to the next, to accentuate the communal spirit of the institution, but the ambitious design was never created as such. Instead, a complex consisting of different volumes, standing together yet retaining their independence, were planted next to the Wolfsputten natural reserve and which today consists of the cultural centre. Although it might not seem as much upon first, outside look, entering the building will reveal a stunning case study in Brutalism, with curved lines combining with stricter ones to delightful effect. Spaces and volumes are accentuated by oversized windows whilst the heavy concrete feel is broken down by circular openings and unexpected inclines. A Brutalist beauty.

theword_brut_westcc030 copy
theword_brut_westcc008 copy
Kamerijklaan 46
1700 Dilbeek

8. Deurne’s Arena neighbourhood

In 1960 and faced with a housing crisis brought on by rising demographic growth, Deurne’s mayor commissioned reputed Brutalist architect Renaat Braem – famed for his collective housing innovations in general and his towering police headquarters in Antwerp specifically – with constructing a set of social housing. This resulted in the Arena apartment complex, a cluster of four separate blocks in the town’s Fort neighbourhood. This was the last residential project the architect worked on, and it turned out to be his most arduous. Indeed, plans were constantly rejected and redesigned, and the ambitious ideological project, that initially included shopping malls and communal centres, only partially saw the light of day. The four structures that did end up being built attest to Braem’s talent for organic Brutalism, one that favoured shapes over colour and thread a fine line between art and architecture.

theword_brut_arena_006 copy
theword_brut_arena_012 copy
Frank Craeybeckxlaan
2100 Deurne

 

9. Ghent University’s Economics Faculty

Ghent University’s Economics faculty is located bang in the city’s student district, behind St. Peter’s square, nestled between the Leie River and the St. Peter’s abbey. Developed by Raoul Brunswyck and Odon Wathelet in 1976, the building was originally conceived to be constructed in the Democratic Republic of Congo – which explains the excessive use of terraces – until the African country declared independence in 1960. Having already spent a fair amount of money on drawing up the architectural plans, the Belgian state, went ahead with its construction plans anyway but opted for Ghent as a destination instead. And the Economics department, who was at the time looking for a space, was lucky enough to be the recipient of the federal largess.

theword_brut_ugent_010 copy
theword_brut_ugent_011 copy
Tweekerkenstraat 2
9000 Gent

 

10. Etterbeek’s VUB Campus

On the border between the Ixelles and Etterbeek communes of Brussels, on a 20-hectare plot of land, is where the Flemish university VUB houses its many faculties, all of them Brutalist gems. One of them is the famed Aula Q unit, where Nelson Mandela famously received his honorary PhD. Designed and constructed in 1977 by Ghent architectural bureau Baro, the building distinguishes itself through its use of extendable halls. The system, called Turntable Divisible Auditorium, allows for a capacity that goes from 250 to 1250 seats thanks to bare concrete panels that shape-shift into an acoustical labyrinth. Another prime example of Brutalist ideals on the campus is the student housing quarter, designed by Willy Van Der Meeren. Originally meant to be a temporary solution, the 352 student rooms are still in use today. Constructed in prefabricated concrete developed by Swiss architect Fritz Stucky in a system called ‘Variel’, each housing unit has the same base structure, a rectangular floor plan with four separate en suite rooms inspired by bathroom cubicles of boats. Currently left in an abysmal state, plans were to demolish the units, until academic research team TRANSFORM devised a way to refurbish them, in the spirit of sustainable development for the future.

word_brut_vub034 copy
word_brut_vub042 copy
2 Boulevard de la Plaine
1050 Ixelles

 

11. Etterbeek’s ING

A colossal structure, ING’s Etterbeek administrative outpost was designed by Réné Stapels, who left his mark on our capital’s skyline with countless other designs such as the North district’s World Trade Centres, Axa’s head office on the Boulevard du Trône, and the infamous Inno shopping mall that burned down in May 1967. Nestled inside a small park right behind Thieffry metro station, the Dutch bank’s offices consist of an 11-storey building made up of different blocks, all of them walled by enormous oval-shaped window units and adjoining sprawling terraces. Outside a small park, created solely for the employees’ use, plays with different volumes and elevation, providing some much-needed green respite from the surrounding concrete jungle. A lesser-know, albeit equally fascinating, alternative to the bank’s Avenue Marnix headquarters, which also are a fine example of Brutalist architecture.

theword_brut_ing_009 copy
theword_brut_ing_007 copy
40 Cours St. Michel
1040 Etterbeek

 

12. Liège’s CHU

Just next to the Sart-Tilman campus of Liège University, the CHU hospital was built by architect Charles Vandenhove, known for infusing both classical and modernist twists in his designs. Composed of five square blocks, each one of them ingeniously linked to a central pyramidal tower, interior walls were mostly constructed out of glass in order to maximise the natural light as well as increase its human feel. This also explains why some world-class contemporary art by the likes of Daniel Buren and Sol Lewitt hang on the wall.

theword_brut_chu_015 copy 2
theword_brut_chu_010 copy
1 Avenue de l’Hopital
4000 Liège

13. Kerselare’s Chapel

Kerselare’s concrete chapel is a well-known pilgrimage destination, if only for the devotion paid to the area’s Holy Mary, a figure that is said to have produced a myriad of miracles. Indeed, after a catastrophic fire destroyed everything but the Holy Mary statue in 1961, a jury from Ghent’s St-Lucas academy tasked architects Juliaan Lampens and Rutger Langaskens with the construction of a new chapel. The original drawings are defined by a constant search for perfect simplicity, and called for a pure Brutalist design. A concrete ground plan poured in situ serves as the base for the chapel, which has a visible wooden mould under a pent roof. Due to bad maintenance, yellow scaffolding nowadays supports the structure and whether or not the chapel will undergo much needed renovations remains uncertain.

theword_brut_kapel_005 copy 2
theword_brut_kapel_010 copy
Kerzelare 98
9700 Edelare