Renaat Braem (1910-2001) may be little known outside his native Belgium, however his place in the architecture history books is indisputable. A representative of Belgium’s Mid-century Modern, the Antwerp-born architect kicked off his career as a trainee with Le Corbusier and worked incessantly from his hometown base since the late 1930s, also contributing to the architecture community with critical writings, such as his seminal essay on Belgium architecture, Het lelijkste land ter wereld [The ugliest country in the world] (1968).
Braem’s own house, built by himself in 1958 and situated in the Deurne suburb of Antwerp, is one of the best preserved examples of his work and the location for our Time & Space fashion shoot in Wallpaper* April 2011 issue. Drawn in by the flowing internal layout, offering horizontal and vertical vistas from one room to the other, the space is further enhanced by the large windows that connect life in the house with the garden and the street bringing in abundant light.
Following the architect’s death in 2001, architects Willem Hulstaert and Walter Slock restored the house with the assistance of architectural historian Jo Braeken and since 2006 it has been open to the public by appointment as a museum.
A ruthless critic of last century Belgium’s urban issues and an International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM) follower for the promotion of architecture as a social art, Braem designed his house according to his architecture principles. Looking at architecture as ‘the art of organising space’, which would eventually help liberate man, the architect created a constellation of functional, interlocking cubes, which create games of volume and void both inside and outside.
The mostly open-plan interior, containing his home as well as his L-shaped office space, uses natural materials and muted tones with Bauhaus-style bright prime colour accents – red, blue and yellow. Exotic objects from all over the world as well as a number of personal objects, souvenirs and designer products – mainly Italian and Danish – furnish the house’s several areas, from the sitting room to the bedroom and black tile bathroom.
Bream is the brains and hand behind some of the most representative modernist examples in Belgium, including the Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Pavilion and the Police Tower, both in Antwerp, as well as several residential projects around the country, so his recent 100th birthday celebration didn’t go unnoticed with the country’s architecture and culture community.
A detailed exhibition of his work was shown in the newly renovated (by architect Stephane Beel) DeSingel culture campus in Antwerp, while his work has been extensively documented in the recent 2-tome book Renaat Braem 1910-2001, by historian Jo Braeken and the Flemish Heirtage Institute (VIOE) for ASP Publishers. An award winner of the Fernand Baudin Prize, the publication was designed by Luc Derycke studios.
Containing over 300 projects, complemented with sketches and unrealised projects’ drawings in two hefty tomes, this book, combined with a visit at the Renaat Braem Huis would offer the most comprehensive look possible to the visionary Belgian architect’s work and a great insight to one of Belgium’s best kept architectural secrets.