Keeping it Nouveau: Victor Horta's Brussels
In this day and age of anything goes, art nouveau hardly seems very nouveauthe 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.
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.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication