Choicelessness

The Victor Horta Museum in Brussels

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on June 18, 2007

I’m now on the final leg of my European Work/Vacation in Brussels (and yesterday the nearby town of Ghent). It’s been exhausting but throughly educational. Two days ago I went to see the Victor Horta Museum located inside the architect’s former residence and atelier. I hadn’t really considered the implications of my thesis visually. If I’m saying that ornament and decoration (as transitory dressings) need to be incorporated into architecture, then the result might look something like the Horta house. Art Noveau had always seemed a little silly to me, an excuse to make a lot of little flourishes. But in the Horta house, one of the few domestic interiors I’ve actually been able explore while travelling, there are a number of little architectural details which bring the ornament to a scale larger than the object. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the museum; photos were not allowed. My favorite moments were when typical structural pieces like columns and beams were folded and dressed to look like stems and flowers. There were also subtle uses of mirror which I really liked. (Two panels to accentuate the skylight in the main staircase, for example.)

I am debating about how over-the-top I’d like to be. Horta’s house used ornament mostly in the more public areas of the house, the foyer, living room, dining room, and the central stair. Gradually, the ostentation leaves as we approach the bedrooms on the upper floors replaced by a simple japanese inspired layout and decor. Perhaps, my ornament sits mostly in the theater and leaves the building entirely by the time we reach the 99 cent store or the roof deck. Do I have to take the first step and say what the first round of the building will look like? Or maybe I should ask my friends in the visual arts to each design a piece of the building?

The last thing I noticed was the arrangement of rooms. More and more I see bedrooms and bathrooms blending into single continuous spaces. In the Horta’s house, the bedroom, dressing room, toilet and bathroom were each entirely separate rooms, sometimes even denoted with a few steps and a change in section. It was formal and proscriptive and there was something really comforting about it. But the layout runs contrary to the flexible “recombinant” program that I describe in my thesis.

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