Friday, 22 April 2011

Great Railway Stations Number 4: Schaerbeek – Schaarbeek

One of the great unsung architectural treasures in the city of Brussels is the grandiose railway station in the northern suburb of Schaerbeek. The buildings were conceived on a monumental scale in anticipation of passenger traffic that never materialised. Thirteen platforms, ten sales positions in the ticket office and a truly grand building were all completed by 1913 to a design by Franz Seulen. A massive central bay is flanked by two smaller bays, topped with a flared mansard roof surmounted by a bulbous spire inset with oculi. Alongside is another large tower that was first to be constructed. The exotic air is only intensified by the alternating courses of red brick and cream stonework. Traditional Flemish styles appear to be the starting point in design terms and there is, for the period, a notable absence of Beaux-Arts or Neo-Classical detail.

The booking hall interior is restrained with varnished wooden ticket office and a tiled floor with simple geometric decoration. The internal space is cavernous and so little used that in the interests of economy it only opens to the public on weekday mornings. It would seem that the municipal planners were seized by inordinate ambition and commissioned a station on a scale that was totally disproportionate, bequeathing an enormous headache to future generations in terms of conservation. Meanwhile the thirteen platforms and ten ticket positions slumber on, patiently awaiting the phantom travellers of Schaerbeek.

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