Keeping it Nouveau: Victor Horta's Brussels

A Touch of Fin-De-Siecle Styling in Belgium's Capital
Horta's Brussels at a Glance
Name: Major townhouses of architect Victor Horta
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Date of Inscription: 2000
Why You Should Go: Art Nouveau may have been just a blip on the cultural time line, lasting just 25 years, but Victor Horta's architectural masterpieces serve as a constant reminder that floating staircases never go out of style.
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In this day and age of anything goes, art nouveau hardly seems very nouveau—the movement's signature style appears on everything from chandeliers to Paris Metro signs to chain hotel lobbies. Yet when Belgian architect Victor Horta was just a pup, more than a century ago, his designs were revolutionary, creating a groundswell akin to Mies van der Rohe's glass boxes and Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie houses.

Art nouveau quickly fell out of favor in 1918, but Horta's famed townhouses in Brussels survived, proving that buildings can be both funky and functional. Four of Horta's masterpieces in Brussels are textbook cases of art nouveau. Hotel Tassel, Hotel Solvay, Hotel van Eetvelde, and Maison and Atelier Horta provide blueprints to the turn-of-the-century style that married industrial materials, such as iron and steel, with florid, sinewy designs, including ship-shaped balconies, creeping vine tendrils on columns and walls, and sweeping staircases that would make Scarlett swoon.
For Horta, organic and airy was in, cold and cramped was out. And while the Solvay became the gold standard of art nouveau architecture, the building also was memorialized on the Belgian 2,000 franc note, an honor usually reserved for the most privileged profiles.

Practically Speaking:
Horta's town houses in the Belgian capital are mainly visible from street-level, some wedged between row houses and often overlooked by pedestrians on the go.

The buildings are located at: 6 Rue Paul-Emile Janson (Tassel); 224 Avenue Louise (Solvay); 4 Avenue Palmerston (Van Eetvelde,) and 23-25 Rue Americaine (Maison and Horta Atelier).

Due to their delicate nature and endangered status (other Horta creations have been demolished, destroyed by fire, or turned into a comic strip museum), tours inside are limited. Hotel Savoy, for one, requires advance reservations to view the mansion's interior. Van Eetvelde, originally built for the secretary of Congo, now houses the Maison de Gaz Natural and, in its extension, the Embassy of Jamaica.

Horta's own pad, however, became the Horta Museum, and remains open to one and all.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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