The ideology of Modern architecture – Renaat Braem

Antwerp architect Renaat Braem was one of the most important 20th century architects.  His vision of architecture was progressive, both in his ideas and in his work. After his graduation in 1936 he did a year’s internship with the famous architect Le Corbusier. From a very young age he gave architecture a new meaning, he described it as ‘the art of organizing human milieu’. In other words: architecture is not just about creating shapes, but also creating the space people need. During the reconstruction after World War II he was one of the few architects in Belgium who applied modern architecture and its ideology. He wrote about it in his book ‘ België, het lelijkste land ter wereld’ (Belgium, the ugliest country in the world) which he published in 1968. In it, he vented his criticism of the spatial disorder in our cities, partly as a consequence of politics and society. The book was conceived after the building of the police tower in Antwerp. This building would be only part of what was supposed to become a large building complex. However, the town council decided differently, and only the tower was built.

In the same year 1968, Braem was commissioned to build a mid-sized public library in Schoten. It was one of the few public projects in his later career, and he achieved it with very little compromise. His original sketch for the building was immediately approved by the council, but the first stone wasn’t laid until 1971. The library shows a beautiful consistency between organic shapes and new materials, and it is a very functional building. The open space is divided into smaller spaces by certain elements, in a most unobtrusive way. There is an open fire with a conversation pit, a fountain and a floating reading area. The library was recently renovated and reinstated. We took a look inside before the opening in 2017, and took these images of the wonderful architecture.

Detail of the staircase at the Library in Schoten.

Left: newspaper article from 1968 about the ideology of Renaat Braem, printed in the re-edition of ‘Het Lelijkste Land’.
Right: View of the library in Schoten

Left: View of the renovated reading shell inside the library.
Right: The library in use in 1974, picture by Achitectuurarchief Antwerp

Left: Renaat Braem did send signed copy’s of his first edition of Het Lelijkste Land to friends, colleagues, artists and politicians. He received lts of thank you notes among this one of Arist René Guiette.
Right: View of the library in Schoten with the little fountain underneath.

Details of the architecture of the library that show the typical shapes and lines that are typical for Braem.

In and outside of the renovated Library.