The Braem Pavilion

Renaat Braem is considered one of the most important representatives of post-war architecture in Belgium. Braem sought to reconcile and integrate architecture with art. As a result, he was closely involved in the Middelheim Museum’s development from its inception.

After designing a provisional pavilion for the Seventh Sculpture Biennial in 1963, Braem was asked to design a permanent pavilion for the more vulnerable collection pieces by the municipal council that same year.

 

Architecture as sculpture

This marked the start of a long creative process with numerous variants, as Braem sought to design a building with a modest sculptural monumentality, with a subsidiary role for sculpture, which would blend in to the park landscape in an organic manner. Soon the design evolved into a series of closed pavilions and open patios, designed “as nature would”. An open entrance and a unique roof structure, a continuous spatial experience and even light throughout the pavilion were the key characteristics of the concept. The foundation stone was laid in 1969. The pavilion itself was inaugurated on the occasion of the 11th Biennial in 1971. The design for a second phase, which would double the surface area, was already in the making but ultimately it was never executed. The planned construction around the pavilion was never finished either. The only trace of this is a small pond with a fountain by Olivier Strebelle.

Braem would later write the following about his cherished pavilion: “I believe that this pavilion is one of the best items I ever designed. The location was well chosen. There were two amazing pine trees, which I politely sidestepped and which led to the curved floor plan. The overall shape is the result of my ambition to let even light fall in through the windows, with curved roof surfaces, which capture the sunlight so it is cast in the building. There are also vertical windows on the north side, which should provide the right lighting for certain sculptures and small wall cavities for smaller sculptures. At the entrance a curved wall makes a sweeping gesture, inviting people in. The outer walls, where possible, are an expression of the powers that reign within. The functional structural shapes are also apparent in the joinery.”

(Het schoonste land ter wereld, Kritak-Leuven, 1987)

 

A new use

The Middelheim Museum’s exhibition policy changed radically in 2012 – following the opening of the Het Huis exhibition pavilion in Hortiflora, freeing up the Braem Pavilion to exhibit those items in the collection that are too vulnerable to display outside.

There are several masterpieces of modern and contemporary sculpture in the depot of the Middelheim Museum – a design by Stephan Beel and another excellent example of the relationship between modern and contemporary sculpture -, which deserve to be shown more often to visitors. Now this can be done in the Braem Pavilion.

The museum often calls on outsiders, who look at the collection less subjectively, for the selection and scenography. We have even worked with curators from outside the visual arts scene. Someone who assesses and selects works based on their current relevance and presents them in a way that also convinces the spectator of their relevance.