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Brussels' Banad Festival: a feast for the eyes
The best of the Belgian capital’s Art Nouveau and Art Deco addresses are opening their doors to the public for the next two weekends: 26-27 September and 3-4 October.
Examples of these distinctive artistic movements that flourished from the 1890s to the mid-20th century – with Art Nouveau all flowing lines and organic shapes, and Art Deco more geometric, patterned and streamlined – are rife in Belgium, putting the country firmly on the world architecture map.
While the coronavirus pandemic has put paid to the wealth of private interior visits offered back in March when Banad was supposed to take place, the festival still offers the public a chance to take a look at gems from the stunning Amsterdam School-style Maison Spittael in Uccle to the Moorish-influenced Art Deco Maison Herrero in Schaerbeek.
“The Banad is really worth a visit because it is a unique festival that allows people to visit houses open exceptionally for the occasion,” Brussels guide, exhibition curator and architecture expert Cécile Dubois told the Bulletin.
“The programme is smaller than the usual offering, and the priority has been given to the bigger places, to allow social distancing. There are nevertheless a lot of visiting possibilities, especially in English,” she said.
Indeed, two masterpieces of the Belgian architect seen as the father of Art Nouveau, Vincent Horta that line the prestigious Avenue Louise: the Hôtel Max Hallet and Hotel Solvay will welcome visitors both weekends. Other Art Nouveau delights include Horta’s wonderful Hôtel van Eetvelde with its winter garden and skylight near Square Ambiorix; and, the Jules Brunfaut-designed Hôtel Hannon (which once housed Contretype photo gallery).
Turning to Art Deco, one highlight is Forest’s wonderful reinforced concrete Saint-Augustin church with its 34-metre tower some 35 metres above Place Saint-Augustin in the Altitude Cent area. Often thought of as the highest point of Brussels, the church is also open for a special night tour. Another must-see is the towering 14-storey plus Palais de la Folle Chanson – the Antoine Courtens-designed luxury apartment block with roof terrace in upper Ixelles.
Other attractions throughout the festival include private visits by the owner to the Hôtel Max Hallet; a conference on the ‘Brussels tragedy’ that was the destruction of Horta’s Maison du Peuple in 1965; and, a guided tour in sign language of the wonderfully restored Art Deco masterpiece Villa Empain. The Michel Polak villa turned art museum is enhanced by a lovely garden boasting Brussels’ biggest outdoor pool – although unfortunately swimming is not permitted.
Activities aimed at families – notably special tours of the CIVA architecture museum archives and a musical workshop at one of Horta’s first creations, the fascinating, François Schuiten-restored Maison Autrique – complete the programme.
The Banad festival, with its visits in French, English and Dutch (€15 with reductions for children) is organised by Explore.Brussels and its member associations ARAU, Arkadia, Bruxelles Bavard and Pro Vélo (cycle tours).