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Iconic Expo 58 American theatre in Brussels to become Flemish cultural hotspot

American theater Brussels - Belga
09:45 05/05/2024

The landmark American Theatre - built for the 1958 World’s Fair at Heysel in Laeken - has been sold to the city of Brussels.

This decision follows an agreement by the federal council of ministers, announced secretary of state for building Mathieu Michel (MR), in a press release.

Located a few hundred metres from the Atomium, the arresting low circular concrete and aluminium building served for many years as a television studio for Flemish broadcaster VRT. Since 2012, it has remained empty, although it has been occupied by artists and other creatives exploiting the anti-squatting law.

In June 2022, the Flemish government and the city of Brussels wrote a letter to the federal government requesting that the theatre, with its huge drawing of caricaturist Al Hirschfield in the foyer, could be used as a new Flemish cultural hub.

The then Flemish minister for Brussels, Benjamin Dalle, said: “The renovated American Theatre will be a real breeding ground for young artistic talent, where they can create, learn and exchange among themselves.”

american theater

The 1200-seat theatre was one of three American-style buildings constructed for Expo 58 by architect Edward Durrell Stone. It was originally built as part of the American pavilion at the World’s Fair, after which the US government sold it to the Belgian state for one dollar.

A similarly circular ‘Circarama’ cinema and pavilion was also constructed for the fair. This latter structure, some 30 metres high and 104 metres in diameter, was considered to be the biggest circular building in Europe and comparable to Rome’s Coliseum. On the demand of King Baudouin, the site’s existing trees were integrated into the pavilion’s interior.

Prison and park

The federal council of ministers also approved the construction of a park to “compensate” building the controversial Haren prison. The plots of land needed to develop this park will be bought (or expropriated) by the Federal Buildings Agency.

The park will then be made available to the city of Brussels and to the local population for a 30-year period, with a possible 30-year extension.

Photos: (main image) ©Belga; US pavilion at 1958 World’s Fair

Written by Liz Newmark



So it will be a Flemish cultural hotspot, not a Brussels or even a Belgian cultural hotspot? Everything in Dutch, no French? That should help bring the two language communities together in supposedly bilingual Brussels. A bit of a missed opportunity imo.
And did King Baudouin actually demand that the trees be integrated into the interior or was it done at his request?

May 7, 2024 12:48