A new perspective


A new perspective

In 1880 and 1897, Brussels had hosted two major exhibitions situated on the city’s former military training grounds, what is currently the Cinquantenaire. In view of its scale, however, a part of the 1897 Exposition had to be located in Tervuren. The organisers of the 1910 Exposition were anxious to find a larger site, but one which was within the city’s boundaries. Finally, they opted for an area of uninhabited land located along the Cambre woods, the favoured walking area of the Brussels population. The new site, which was annexed by the city authorities in 1907, made it possible to mount an initiative on a previously unparalleled scale.

The Exposition was officially inaugurated by the young king Albert 1st on 21st April 1910, and stretched from what is now the Avenue Franklin Roosevelt to the Ixelles Cemetary. Pavilions constructed in varied and imaginative architectural styles hosted over twenty countries as well as a number of specific themes (the Palace of Female Work, for example), and numerous private firms. There was also a range of attractions and cafés. In addition to the popular success of the event, the terrible fire of the night of the 14th–15th August, which destroyed a significant number of buildings, has left a lasting memory: there was no loss of human life, but considerable material damage was caused and this led the organisors to hastily rebuild some of the pavilions.

When the Exposition closed its doors on 8th November 1910, the organisors had more than achieved their aims – some sources speak of as many as 13 million visitors. Above and beyond its popular success, however, the event played a crucial role in the expansion of the capital and the urban development of new districts. As planned, the Exposition buildings were dismantled but, in the early 1920s, the Avenue des Nations (renamed Avenue Franklin Roosevelt after the Second World War), the main road axis of the Exposition, was lengthened to the Boitsfort racecourse. This contributed to the urban development of this part of Brussels, particularly with the construction of numerous prestigious buildings. The vacant land at Solbosch caught the attention of the authorities of the ULB when the University had to leave its premises in the city centre.

The 1910 Exposition is a key moment in the cultural and economic history of Brussels, but also in terms of the city’s urban development. Curiously, it has never been the object of a serious study. The historians of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters decided to explore this little known but crucial page of the history of Brussels by means of a novel form of collaboration with their colleagues of the Faculty of Applied Science. The goal was to create a six-week exhibition in 2010 to commemorate the centenary of the Universal Exposition. The exhibition will make it possible to offer to the general public a new perspective on the history of the district in which the University is located and to exploit a range of magnificent visual documents drawn from both private and public sources, all made accessible by means of entertaining and user-friendly multimedia technologies. The exhibition makes use of some fairly standard forms of presentation such as showcases displaying loaned objects and documents, or posters tracing the historical analysis of key documents, but it also exploits the potential of 3D. For example, an “interactive book” presents the various participating countries and their pavilions, and it will also be possible to survey the site plans over time.

Students of the Contemporary History seminar of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters have examined various subjects linked to the Universal Exposition of 1910, and the results of their work are exploited within the framework of the 1910 exhibition.

Over the last three years, three-dimensional models of the pavilions of the 1910 Exposition have been created on the basis of digitalised plans and postcards. These models have made it possible to create a range of attractive events which exploit the potential of the latest technologies. Thus, on the basis of the digital model of a building, it is possible, for example, to obtain a scale model on a 3D printer or a computer generated construction plan of a model of a building.