Friday, February 12, 2010

Heritage@Risk - Sanatorium Lemaire, Belgium

Severe Threat to Belgian Modernist Masterpiece:
Support Needed!

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Some 19km from Brussels lays the Joseph Lemaire Sanatorium, a modernist masterpiece by the architects Maxime and Fernand Brunfaut. Both designers were closely linked with the socialist movement in the Interbellum period and played an important role in the introduction of the modernist principles in Belgian architectural culture. Before embarking on a successful personal career, Maxime Brunfaut was for a longtime Victor Horta’s principal assistant.

Just like Aalto’s famous Paimio Sanatorium and the celebrated Zonnestraal Sanatorium by Duiker and Blijvoet, the Lemaire sanatorium was conceived in a typically functionalist manner, providing a state of the art infrastructure for the cure of patients suffering from tuberculosis.

From its opening in 1937 on, the Lemaire Sanatorium attracted international attention from both the medical and architectural world who praised its functional organization, the fluid sequence of its interior spaces, the plastic articulation of the building mass and the detailing of the façades, clad with ceramic tiles. A remarkable invention is the block system.

After the building was disused in the late 1980s, it quickly fell pray to decay, vandalism and theft. Paradoxically, its listing as a historical monument in 1993 even stimulated this perishing as it led to a situation of immobility. Propositions for reuse of the structure as lofts, offices or an asylum for political refugees were aborted in an early stage. Despite its current ruinous state, the building continues to attract international attention from scholars, architects and photographers who are impressed by the strength of its forms and its interaction with the surrounding landscape.

More information on the sanatorium and petition