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Renovation begins on Justice Palace. Well on the scaffolding, anyway

18:19 17/03/2021

Renovation works will soon begin – or shall we say proceed – on the Justice Palace in Brussels. We know – you’ll believe it when you see it. Us too, but we feel the need to report on what we are being told anyway.

The agency responsible for federal buildings announced last year that the exterior of the Justice Palace would be fully renovated by 2030. Ha ha, said long-time residents of Brussels, tell us another one.

For the Justice Palace has been shrouded in scaffolding for at least 34 years now, the victim of endless red tape, administrative incompetence and arguing among several levels of government about who should pay for what and when. Not to mention a lack of vision on how currently empty interior spaces will be put to use.

But behold! A construction team began setting up shop this week in the shadow of the largest courthouse in the world. Their first task is to … wait for it … renovate the scaffolding. So aged is the structure – that not only allows access to the building’s exterior but is the very support by which the building is being held in place – it needs to be shored up to ensure that it is safe.

The dome of the Justice Palace from the airRenovations to the Justice Palace’s glorious cupola were actually completed, in 2002

To most Brussels residents, the scaffolding is the facade of the Justice Palace, having never seen the building without it. In fact, it’s difficult to even come to a consensus on when the scaffolding was erected, with local media outlets claiming anywhere from 1982 to 1987. It’s all become a bit cloudy, you see.

In any case, the federal government has loosened up its purse strings to allow €1.5 million to be spent on stabilising the scaffolding. “This will allow trial restorations to be carried out on the exterior stones,” said a spokesperson for the federal buildings agency. “The stability of the façade can then be mapped and immediate interventions carried out if necessary.”

It is the official beginning of the renovation of several sides of the building – which has been struggling along in fits and starts for 35 years. The agency hopes that the exterior will be completed by 2030 – at which point the scaffolding will disappear.

‘Vital to our country’

The main façade along Place Poelaert, the square itself and the base of the building’s striking central dome will be renovated in the first phase. The facades along Rue des Minimes, Rue aux Laines and Rue de Wynants will follow in two later phases. The total cost: €87 million.

Following all that, the 10-year attempt to renovate the interior begins.

“Our citizens have seen the Brussels Justice Palace in scaffolding for 40 years,” said federal buildings state secretary Mathieu Michel (MR), clearly subscribing to the theory that the scaffolding went up in the early 1980s. “Imagine that the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or London’s Big Ben was surrounded by scaffolding for 40 years. What impact would that have on the image of France or of the UK? The Justice Palace is vital to our country on several levels.”

Check out your correspondent’s contribution to Brussels Explained to learn more about the long saga of the renovations to the Justice Palace

Photos, from top: ©Alexander Dumarey/VRT, Simon Schmitt/


Written by Lisa Bradshaw


Frank Lee

"A construction team began setting up shop this week in the shadow of the largest courthouse in the world."
It may have been the largest in the world at the time of its construction, but no more today. Several other courthouses in the world are bigger than the Brussels Monster: the Eagleton US Courthouse in St Louis, Missouri, covers more than 91,000 sqm. Istanbul has one that covers 80,000 sqm. At 26,000 sqm, Brussels is far from the largest. The ugliest? Yes, definitely.

Mar 20, 2021 21:14