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International Congress for Modern Architecture. Belgian Section. OAC

 
 

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Biographical History

The International Congress for Modern Architecture (Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne, or CIAM) was an influential association of modern architects and city planners united in a search for solutions to the problems of urban areas. Founded in 1928 at the Château de La Sarraz, Switzerland by Le Corbusier, Sigfried Giedion and architectural patroness Hélène de Mandrot, CIAM served for several decades as the organizational center of the modern movement in architecture. Between 1928 and 1957, CIAM organized a series of ten formal congresses and additional CIAM council or CIRPAC meetings under the directorship of its CIRPAC committee (Comité international pour la réalisation des problèmes d'architecture contemporaine), together with an eleventh congress in 1959 under reformulated directorship. These meetings provided a professional forum for debating and disseminating theoretical, aesthetic and technical developments and achievements in the field of modern architecture and city planning.

Although Belgian participation in CIAM dated from the first La Sarraz conference, the Belgian section secretariat was formed in 1934, through the collaboration of the Groupe L’Equerre (meaning "square", an architectural drafting tool) and Victor Bourgeois, a founding CIAM member who had distinguished himself with the presentation of his housing complex La Cité Moderne at CIAM III, Brussels, 1930. L’Equerre was composed of five Liège-based architects - Paul Fitschy, Ivon Falise, Edgard Klutz, Émile Parent and A. Tibaux - who had met ca. 1928 during their architectural studies at the Académie de Liège (presumably the Académie royale des beaux-arts de Liège), and who at the time of their joining CIAM were editing a journal, called L’Equerre, which championed the cause of modern architecture and city planning (see related collection: L'Equerre; Records, 1928-1960; accn. no. 850864). Other notable modern architects including Huib Hoste (a founding CIAM member along with Bourgeois), L. H. de Koninck, Gaston Eysselinck and Renaat Braem augmented the section membership. The Belgian section secretariat was located in the offices of L’Equerre; Fitschy served as secretary, Bourgeois as section president and first delegate, and De Koninck as second delegate. In 1937 the Belgian section proposed two contributions to CIAM V in Paris: Hoste’s urban development plan for the right bank of the Scheldt in Antwerp, and Bourgeois’s survey of Charleroi; additionally, Fitschy and Braem participated in the 2nd CIAM commission, "Cas d'application des villes". In 1938, at the behest of CIRPAC, the section was split into three geographic subdivisions - one each for Brussels, Antwerp and Liège - to work independently under Belgian section leadership. The Belgian section, and particularly the Liège group headed by L’Equerre, worked in earnest to prepare a proposed CIAM VI in Liège, which would have taken place in September of 1939, concurrently with the "Exposition internationale de l’eau", held to mark the 30 July 1939 opening of the Albert Canal, linking Liège with Antwerp and the North Sea. This opportunity to promote Liège in the wider architectural community was shattered, however, by the cancellation of that year’s congress at the start of World War II (see Box 6).

The section remained inactive throughout the war, but revived with the announcement of CIAM VI in Bridgwater, planned for 1947. Troubles beset the Belgian section’s preparations for this congress, which only one Belgian member attended. In view of his absence, Bourgeois was dismissed by CIRPAC as first Belgian delegate, to be replaced by Fitschy; Léon Stynen later took on the role of second Belgian delegate. Bourgeois’s subsequent resignation from CIAM placed Fitschy in an even more responsible role towards Belgian section activities, a role he had hoped would be minimized with the 1948 reorganization of the Brussels, Antwerp and Liège sections into independent groups responsible directly to CIAM. Additionally, the group’s decision to expel several members (among them Hoste and Falise) for suspected or proven Nazi sympathies and collaboration led to a lengthy contention with Hoste, who pressed insistently but unsuccessfully for readmission. Also during this period, the Belgian section began encouraging the involvement of a younger generation of architects and offering educational opportunities to students still in the course of their architectural studies, a directive then being instituted on a CIAM-wide basis.

Fitschy’s hopes that the reorganization would result in a revitalization of the section were not fulfilled, and in April of 1951 he formally renounced responsibility for Belgian section activities, thereafter devoting his energies to the Liège section, which had been joined by the Groupes EGAU and Planning. Stynen was to undertake responsibilities for the independent Brussels-Antwerp section. Notwithstanding Fitschy’s decision, born of frustration at the perceived lack of energy and responsiveness in the section, several Belgian grids, or city planning project charts, were presented at subsequent CIAM conferences. L’Equerre’s grid for the city of Flémalle-Haute (Box 8, f. 3; Box 10*, f. 7; Box 11*; Flat file folder 1**), a planned suburb west of Liège, exhibited at the 1951 CIAM VIII, Hoddesdon, was featured in the publication The heart of the city, and at least two Belgian grids, one for the "Unité d’habitation Anvers-Kiel" and one for a construction in Liège by Groupe EGAU, were presented at the 1953 CIAM IX, Aix-en-Provence (see Box 8, f. 8 for accompanying analyses).

CIAM IX also saw the emergence of Team X (Team 10), an alliance of younger architects who rejected the ideas of the old-guard CIAM, based on the 1933 Athens Charter, as too rigidly mechanistic or functionalist. Team X sought instead to explore human associations within an environment, and felt moreover that CIAM had grown too large, with loss of its original vigor. After formalizing its agenda in a meeting in Doorn in January of 1954, Team X was invited at the 1954 Paris CIRPAC meeting to set the agenda for the 1956 CIAM X in Dubrovnik, with J. B. Bakema as acting secretary. The experiences at Dubrovnik hardened the rift between the two factions, and a debate ensued over whether to dissolve or reorganize CIAM. Reorganization was chosen, and in 1957 at La Sarraz CIAM was renamed "CIAM: Research Group for Social and Visual Relationships (CIAM: Groupe de recherches pour les interrelations sociales et plastiques)" with new statutes, the abolition of all national groups, and a severely restricted membership. The archive of Belgian section records ends at this time. CIAM XI, which took place in Otterlo in 1959, featured the work of 43 selected architects including Belgians Willy van der Meeren and Peter Callebout, whose work is not represented in this collection. This final congress ended with a decision to dissolve CIAM definitively.

From the finding aid for Records of the CIAM Belgian Section 1928-1958 1934-1958 (Getty Research Institute)

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