Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta (Brussels)
Major Town Houses Of The Architect Victor Horta (Brussels)
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The appearance of Art Nouveau in the closing years of the 19th century marked a decisive stage in the evolution of architecture, making possible subsequent developments, and the four town houses of Victor Horta in Brussels (Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, Maison et Atelier Horta) bear exceptional witness to its radical new approach. They brilliantly illustrate the transition from the 19th to the 20th centuries in art, thought and society. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterized by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building.

The Hôtel Tassel can be considered the founding work of Art Nouveau. Commissioned by Professor Emile Tassel in 1893, it was the first work in which Horta was able to realize his original conception of architecture. The house was finished in 1894, but Horta continued designing the furniture for some years. After the Second World War, the house was split into small flats so that little of the decoration remained visible. In 1976 the street facade and the main doors were restored and the building was adapted as prestige offices. The street facade, built from stone, is remarkably integrated into its context. Above the entrance there is a two-storey bow window in an innovative steel structure. On the street site the building has the entrance floor, a mezzanine, first and second floor, and an attic. These levels are shifted towards the garden side by way of a central staircase.

Commissioned by Armand Solvay, the Hôtel Solvay was built from 1895 to 1898, with furniture completed in 1903. In 1957 the building became the seat of a fashion house;in 1980 the owners started the restoration of the building, including the restitution of the glass roofs of the main staircase, cooling of the interior decoration, and restoring the facade. It is the best preserved of all Horta's house and still maintains its interior intact, including original art objects and the utilities in functional order.

In 1895 the diplomat and Secretary General of Congo, Van Eetvelde, commissioned the house that bears his name and construction started in 1897. The building was to provide a home for the family and a prestigious setting for the reception of international guests. The west wing area was completed in 1900 and the east wing in 1901. In 1920, after the death of Mme Van Eetvelde the property was divided in two parts.

The Maison et Atelier Horta responded to the professional and family needs of the architect, and were built in 1898-1901 on two lots in a fashionable district of the town. After his divorce, he leased the building for a while, but then continued living there, making changes in the interior;a terrace and a winter garden were added and the atelier was enlarged. The facade is built from stone and has delicately designed metal railings. The most spectacular element in the building is represented by the vast glass ceiling over the main staircase. In 1919 the buildings were sold to Major Henri Pinte and in 1926 the two parts of the building were separated. In 1961 the Commune of Saint Gilles acquired the residential part for a museum of Horta's work.

The four town houses by Victor Horta form an essential link from the classical tradition to the Modern Movement in the history of architecture, as conceived by one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau. He revolutionized the architectural concepts of his time by introducing the idea of an open plan and creating real dialogue of materials and their uses according to their intrinsic nature within a new way of conceiving decoration. The Horta buildings revive the 19th-century tradition of bourgeois residential buildings, combining residential and representational functions, which require a subtle organization of spaces and differentiated circulation. In each case, Horta's genius created a coherent unity of architecture and decoration, reflecting the personality of the owner.