Brussels’ urban space, like that of many other cities, is dotted with evidence of a productive industrial past. The activities that took place there were generally not geared to mass production for export, but to small­ scale manufacturing aimed at supplying the needs of local city dwellers. That small­scale manufacturing in­ dustry included members of the building trade such as contractors, joiners and builders’ merchants who ca­ tered to the demand for housing in an ever­expanding city. Their business premises formed a vital link in the creation and renovation of the urban fabric.
This article focuses on the values of small­scale in­ dustrial heritage from the building trade, which is un­ der enormous pressure in a city like Brussels. The dy­ namics of constantly rising real estate prices make residential redevelopment a lucrative investment. Thanks to gentrification, many workshops are being converted into housing and former warehouses are falling prey to large­scale property development.
Real estate dynamics, scaling­up and changing mar­ ket conditions are also contributing to the disappear­ ance of the small­scale, live­work fabric that fosters a beneficial mix of functions. The expertise and skills that for centuries have supplied the basic needs of the city in a sustainable manner are then lost. In light of growing traffic congestion and unemployment, aca­ demics and urban planners are becoming increasingly convinced of the need for permanently embedded, city­servicing economic actors like building business­ es. Thus, even today, small­scale industrial heritage is
vital to the functioning of the urban economy, in that offers the possibility of spatially organizing or reorgan­ izing city­servicing activities within a dense urban fab­ ric.
Inspired by integrated concepts of heritage, we there­ fore argue in favour of a broadening of industrial herit­ age values aimed at anchoring the use of such locations in time and space. We take issue with an exclusively material approach to industrial heritage by pointing out the immaterial heritage value of a continuity of productive use.
After a brief theoretical reflection on the value of small­scale industrial heritage in the city, we examine the historical evolution of Brussels’ industrial heritage at the macro level between 1890 and 1970, the period in which the development of the suburbs of Brussels was in full swing. We use a series of exemplary cases to il­ lustrate the different trajectories of continuity and dis­ continuity of heritage on the one hand, and productive use of building trade locations in Brussels on the other. We also try to get to grips with the motivations of busi­ nesses that abandon the city, cease to exist or manage to adapt to volatile market conditions.
This article uses a selection of cases to challenge a purely material approach to industrial heritage and makes the case for further research into the question of how individual heritage legislation might also rec­ ognize immaterial heritage values in historical busi­ ness activity on a particular site or in an industrial building.
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)20-35
Number of pages15
JournalBulletin KNOB
Volume118
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2019

ID: 48732649