Brussels is commonly considered the capital of Art Nouveau. A walk through the city centre offers a history lesson in architecture as beautifully preserved Art Nouveau buildings from the late 19th to early 20th centuries stand shoulder-to-shoulder with historical Gothic structures. Explore the incredible Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels and discover the works of Victor Horta, the Belgian patron of Art Nouveau, as well as the homes of notable talents such as Paul Cauchie and Paul Saintenoy.
Hôtel Tassel is widely considered the world’s first Art Nouveau building. Built by architect Victor Horta in 1893, the UNESCO World Heritage house (which, contrary to the name, isn’t a hotel) was designed as a home for Belgian scientist and professor Emile Tassel. The building features a trendsetting design that abandoned the traditions of the time for modern materials like iron and glass. A distinctive stone exterior with large curved bay windows encases a stunning interior, the centrepiece of which is a grand staircase that spirals up through the tall townhouse. While visitors can’t freely venture inside, it’s worth passing by to see the building’s striking exterior.
The Solvay House, another UNESCO World Heritage Monument, is one of the most ambitious works by the same architect, Victor Horta. After being given a bottomless budget and creative freedom to design a home for science magnate Armand Solvay, Horta used the opportunity to push the boundaries of Art Nouveau. By manipulating metal framing usually found in industrial structures, he was able to create an innovative layout wherein natural light flooded through cleverly placed glass panels. Architecture enthusiasts can enjoy a tour of the building to get a closer look at Horta’s work, which includes spectacular painted walls and beautiful motifs that flow between all aspects of the interior décor, from the mosaic floors to the custom furniture.
Get inside Horta’s head with a trip to his home and studio, the Horta Museum. The house was built between 1898 and 1901 and is a typical example of Art Nouveau design, with beautiful interiors that heavily feature mosaics, wall decorations and stained glass – most of which has been preserved. The Horta Museum opened in 1969 and has since invited visitors to take a tour of the building and learn about the architect at its insightful Art Nouveau exhibition.
Complete your tour of Horta’s Brussels with a trip to BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, an impressive museum built by Horta in 1928. While differing from his usual mansion designs in size and grandeur, the building still maintains a discernable air of Art Nouveau. Recently renovated to the architect’s original appearance, the museum houses art exhibition spaces, concert halls and theatres.
Designed and built in the 1930s by Swiss architect Michel Polok, Villa Empain is a beautiful example of Art Deco done the luxury way. After being commissioned by Baron Louis Empain, Polok used the highest quality materials and most expensive details to construct a beautiful home which would last the ages, visually and physically. Recently restored to its former glory, the villa is now home of the Boghossian Foundation and its artist in residence programme which invites artists from all fields to spend time at house to work on their craft. Villa Empain is open to visitors and guides lead tours every day except Monday.
One of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels, Cauchie House was built by architect and artist Paul Cauchie in 1905. While the exterior is distinctly Art Nouveau, Cauchie’s artistic hand is felt strongly throughout, particularly in the intricate graffito wall décor. As is only natural in an artist’s house, the walls are covered with famous Art Nouveau paintings – a highlight for visitors. The house is only open to the public on the first weekend of each month, so advance planning is essential.
The Musical Instruments Museum, or the ‘mim’,was built in 1899 to a design by architect Paul Saintenoy. Located on the Montagne de la Cour, the building was an ancient department store redesigned as a museum to house one of the largest collections of musical instruments in the world. Whether you’re interested in music or not, it’s worth a visit for its striking Art Nouveau architecture, which can be admired from the rooftop restaurant. Accessible independently from the museum, the restaurant also has unbeatable views over the city – a striking way to bring a day in Brussels to a memorable close.
Continue your architectural adventure at the historic Hotel Amigo, which was built in 1957 on the site of a former prison.
Image credits: Brussels architecture © iStock/Hindenberg, iStock/Alison Cornford, iStock/possum1961.