New Research: ‘The Congo must have a presence on Belgian soil.’ The concept of representation in governmental discourses on the architecture of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels, 1908–1960

 

‘The Congo must have a presence on Belgian soil.’ The concept of representation in governmental discourses on the architecture of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels, 1908–1960

Jens van de Maele and Johan Lagae, The Journal of Architecture, Vol 22, Issue 7, p1178-1201.

While parliament buildings and governor‘s palaces have been studied as embodiments of governmental or colonial power, the architecture of the often more mundane state administrative office buildings has only received scant attention from architectural historians.

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The Museum of the Belgian Congo in Tervuren near Brussels, constructed between 1904 and 1910: undated postcard from around 1910 (personal collection of Johan Lagae).

In this article, we seek to demonstrate that political discourses concerning such buildings can nonetheless reveal important conceptions of colonial power. Rather than focusing on how such power was accommodated in and shaped by state-built architecture overseas, this article draws attention to the representational aspects of colonial governance in a mother country through an analysis of various projects proposed for the Belgian Ministry of Colonies (1908–1960). In the 1930s, when it was still housed in an eighteenth-century neoclassical building in Brussels, the Ministry of Colonies was included in a visionary but unsuccessful civil service reform, which was aimed at a modernisation of the Belgian state bureaucracy and its office buildings.

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Presentation drawing of the unrealised headquarters project by Ramon and Aerts, 1953 (City Archives of Brussels: Construction permit request no 63042).

After the Second World War, when colonialism became increasingly criticised in international fora, successive Belgian Ministers of Colonies pleaded for the construction of a new, grandiose ministerial complex, which was supposed to symbolise efficiency, modernity, and—above all —the permanence of the colonial undertaking. Even though important steps were taken to realise this complex, the project was outrun by the global decolonisation process, of which the independence of the Belgian Congo (1960) was an inevitable outcome.

Full Article here [with institutional log-in / purchase]: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13602365.2017.1376344

Or the first 50 readers can view for free here: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/bkeW5msVy6auvEWbW8ed/full

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