Saturday, 4 August 2012

Zurenborg, an Antwerp Suburb

A 15 minute tram-ride from the city centre past the wondrous Central Station and on for another two miles via a long, narrow street of small, struggling and deceased businesses leads to the Draakplaats intersection, then under the railway bridge and into the heart of the strange fin-de-siécle suburb of Zurenborg. These photos come from the Cogels-Osylei district that takes its name from those of the agricultural landowners who spotted an economic opportunity as the city encroached upon their farmland in the 1890s. Although the suburb was developed according to a carefully considered master-plan, the plan did not extend to imposing conformity of architectural style. Instead, local architects and builders created a show-ground offering examples of the newest of contemporary styles alongside every conceivable historical revival to attract a professional and prosperous clientele. Mansion blocks and large townhouses line the silent streets and compete for attention with a spectacular variety of façades applied over mostly conventional interiors. Some developments conformed to a theme – examples include the Four Seasons (described in a post last October), the group of five houses themed according to times of the day, known collectively as Den Tijd (time) and the houses in Waterloostraat that commemorate the Napoleonic wars. A sense that the stylistic eclecticism was driven by commercial considerations has divided architectural critics with many tending to dismiss it as a theatrical exercise of no great merit. This seems to me to miss the point – which is that a happy accident of time, place and motivation has produced a unique, three-dimensional architectural pattern-book for our enjoyment and a perfect illustration of the way that architects simultaneously attempt to look both forward and backwards and achieve some sort of balance. Two brief visits is not enough to put together a comprehensive study – these images are no more than a partial glimpse and to get a better feeling for the innate incongruity, present for the most part a sequence of window surrounds offering a dazzling range of forms and finishes. 

1 comment:

Marshall Colman said...

What a wonderful record of fin-de-siecle windows