The C&A building in Namur is a jewel that is not doomed to demolition

The remarkable building by Léon Stynen and Paul De Meyer near Namur station is under threat of demolition. Let’s put a stop to the mistakes and support a real policy of protecting the 20th century architectural heritage in the Walloon Region!, say the signatories.

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lThe district around Namur station is a real gateway to the city, a transition point to the historic center of Namur. On June 20, 2022, a development project located on Place Leopold, in the immediate vicinity of this station, in the Urban Restructuring Perimeter (PRU), known as the “Leopold Quarter”, was submitted to the municipal authorities for approval. This project does not take into account the important elements present on this site, including in particular the C&A building built in 1969/70 by the architects Léon Stynen and Paul De Meyer. However, this building deserves continued attention.

An exceptional building

The arguments to be taken into account to prohibit its demolition and continue its classification concern not only the urban environment of Namur, but also the recognition of a modern architectural heritage, recognized in Wallonia, in Belgium and internationally. Among these we will emphasize how much this building is:-
Exemplary in urban planning terms. – This is one of the rare modern projects in the hyper center of Namur, along with that of Roger Bastin. Breaking with a “homogeneous” historic center in terms of alignment, materials, types of openings and roofs, this building nevertheless fits into the surrounding templates, testifying to a fine reflection on the notions of heterogeneity / urban homogeneity.

Exemplary for its implementation. This not only follows the contours of the plot and unfolds on three sides, creating a generous public space for pedestrians.

Representative of the architecture of the second half of the 20th century. – According to the statement of the Walloon government, this production should undergo an upgrade: “Quickly carry out an inventory of the endangered heritage, in particular the industrial heritage and architecture of the 20th century”.

Representative of typical 20th century architectural research. – With an abstract and dynamic facade composition with a very high degree of finesse, the language is part of the so-called “brutalist” movement that emphasizes building materials in their raw state. Based on, among other things, the classical principle of the Golden Number, the design of the facades bears witness to the relationship with the works of Le Corbusier.

Remarkable from an architectural point of view. The construction consists of a recessed plinth and a large volume of perforated and floating floors. The typical structure is based on a series of posts which, where they are arranged, allow for a very wide variety of arrangements and rearrangements. The floors are lined with precast concrete cubicles that are very subtly aligned and misaligned. A series of colored faces enliven the facades.

Characteristic of a heritage in danger. – The challenge is not just Namur, but falls under a wider responsibility with regard to the history of Belgian and international architecture. Destroying the C&A building in Namur deprives the city of an element inherited from modern times that has preserved its original features and qualities.

Part of a common architectural and cultural history. The C&A building in Namur is part of a series of shops built by the same company over the course of several years. They are all created by the same architects and have adopted a common visual identity through architectural expression. Most are located in the main shopping streets (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Kortrijk, Charleroi, etc.)

Characteristic for contemporary issues. – At a time when the problem of climate problems, sustainable development and energy saving has become a necessity recognized by everyone, such a large and polluting demolition is nonsense. It is a building in good condition, showing no signs of damage and fulfilling its function since its construction. In our time, demolition should be the last resort when faced with an “irreparable” condition.

An architect who made history

As proof of its quality, this building is listed in the Walloon Regional Inventory and also appears in the Guide Modern and Contemporary Architecture 1893-2020. Namur & Luxembourg. Provinces”, published in 2020 by the Cellule Architecture of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. It is also included in the AWAP Cultural Heritage inventory.

To better understand the importance of this work, it is helpful to refer to its lead author, Léon Stynen (1899-1990) (affiliated with Paul De Meyer for many projects). He is the author of an important work that includes the Belgian Pavilion of the World Exhibition in New York (in collaboration with Henry van de Velde and Victor Bourgeois), the BP building and the Cultural Center “deSingel” in Antwerp, the casinos of Ostend and Knokke, the Saint-Rita chapel in Harelbeke, the Peter Pan school in Saint-Gilles. He was also director of the architecture department of the Academy of Antwerp (1948) and director of the National Higher Institute for Architecture and Decorative Arts of La Cambre (1950-1965), a school founded in 1928 by Henry van de Velde and embodied modernity for a long time. Finally, he made an important contribution to the development of the architectural profession, working for the protection of the title and the creation of a professional body of which he was the first president in 1963. The importance of Léon Stynen for the history of modern architecture in Belgium was confirmed by the realization in 2018/2019 of a monographic exhibition and a reference work by the Flanders Architecture Institute.

For all these reasons we ask:

– The City Council of Namur refuses any urban and architectural development project involving the demolition of the so-called “C&A” building at Place Leopolds 1 and is making every effort to clean up the environment around that building by coordinating the several operators (electricity, car parks, clothing bubbles, traffic signs, advertising media, pavilion “Walloon couriers”) to put an end to the visual pollution that disfigures this remarkable building;

– To the Minister of Heritage, Valérie de Bue, to classify this building, including a sufficient outline around it, intended to highlight this building and the urban planning party from which it arises. To do this (after careful study) and without waiting for the demolition, we ask him to register it urgently on the reserve list.

*Among more than 1,700 signatories: Joseph Abram, architect, historian (Fr);

François Andrieux, director of the National School of Architecture and Landscape in Lille (Fr); Raymond Balau, architect, urban planner, art and architecture critic (AICA/SCAM), prof. treasure. ENSAV La Cambre; Jean-Marc Basyn,, Lecturer Faculty of Architecture La Cambre Horta ULB; Lucien-Jacques Baucher, architect Jean-Didier Bergilez, architect, professor – Faculty of Architecture La Cambre Horta – Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Kristiaan Borret, Master Architect Brussels-Capital Region; Arnaud Bozzini, director Brussels Design Museum; Sébastien Charlier, GAR-Archives of Architecture – ULiège; Audrey Contesse, Director of the Cultural Institute of Architecture Wallonia-Brussels; Chantal Dassonville, Deputy Director-General, Head of the Archi Division of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation; Wessel de Jonge, architect, chair of Heritage & Design, Architectural Engineering + Technology department, Delft University of Technology; Dirk De Meyer, Professor of Architectural History and Architectural Design, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Ghent University; Isabelle De Smet, doctorate in the art of building and urban design, first assistant, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of Mons, UMONS; Etienne Godimus, Architect – Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Mons; Franz Graf, President of “DoCoMoMo Switzerland”; Adrien Grimmeau, Director of ISELP; Jean-Pierre Hardenne, Professor, School of Design, UQAM; Richard Klein, President of “DoCoMoMo France”; Gery Leloutre, PhD in Architecture and Urban Planning – Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Pablo Lhoas, architect, lecturer and dean – Faculty of Architecture La Cambre Horta – of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Georgios Maillis, Architect – Master Architect of Charleroi; Christophe Mouzelard, historian of art and architecture, director of the Association of Friends of Unesco; Marcelle Rabinowicz, Architect, Professor and Vice Dean – Faculty of Architecture La Cambre Horta of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Kevin Saladé, Deputy Director – ENSAV La Cambre and Professor of Art History; David Vanderburgh, Vice Dean – UCLouvain/LOCI/LLN; Cécile Vandernoot, architect, teacher and researcher at the LOCI Faculty of Architecture at UCLouvain, director of the Guide to Modern and Contemporary Architecture: Namur – Luxembourg (provinces) 1893-2020; France Vanlaethem, Professor Emeritus, School of Design – UQAM, President of “Docomomo Québec”; Jean-Paul Verleyen, Architect, Professor Emeritus and Former Vice Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Architecture, Urbanism – LOCI of UCL, co-author of the “Guide to Modern and Contemporary Architecture of the Provinces of Namur and Luxembourg; Luc Vincent, designer Didier Viviers, Permanent Secretary of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium; Bernard Wittevrongel, Architect, Professor – Catholic University of Leuven Tatiana Wolski-Stynen, Business Analyst, Visual Artist

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