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“Man makes walls, walls make man.” No, this isn’t a gloomy reflection on our lack of freedom but a plea for architecture that makes a positive contribution to the liberation of man. It’s a quote by Renaat Braem, architect of the VUB rectorate building, among others, in the 1970s.

 

 

The striking ellipsis-shaped building, known prosaically as M, is getting a new name. Isabelle Selleslag, campus facilities policy officer, explains: “To give Renaat Braem the honour he deserves, the protected monument will be christened Braemgebouw. He created such an iconic building, in which he integrated the emblem of VUB as a free university. The symbol of an open and tolerant worldview, with free research as its foundation, is subtly demonstrated in the reliefs in the concrete canopy, and is more pronounced in the fantastic murals he created.”

 

First results during jubilee year

 

The restoration works on the rectorate building are currently being prepared, and the work will begin at the end of this year. Isabelle: “The aim is that the first phase of the renovation will be completed in VUB’s 50th anniversary year, in 2019-2020. The building has been in service as an administrative centre for our university for almost all that time, and it’s showing some wear and tear: the windows are no longer air- and water-tight, some of the floors sag by up to 8cm, and the lifts need renovation. We also want to use this opportunity to make the building more accessible to people with reduced
mobility.”

 

Back to its origins

 

The first phase will tackle the ground floor and first floor; stairs and lifts will be renovated next. Later phases will deal with the other floors and the roof. Isabelle: “The most important thing is that the ground floor and the first floor once again have a public function. ‘Again’ because Braem originally saw the first floor as an event space, but over time it has been converted into little offices and booths. Lectures, receptions and doctoral defences could be held here. It means the building will once again have a place at the centre of the academic world, as the closing point of an academic career.” The restoration is being led by the architect bureau Origin Architecture & Engineering and receives subsidies from the Brussels-Capital Region’s Monuments and Landscapes Board.

 

Open space

 

During the construction between 1971 and 1976, the university didn’t agree with Braem’s proposed open office landscape. “So that original idea will also be honoured,” says Isabelle with enthusiasm. “It’s the most important change that we’re making to the protected architecture. We will get rid of the separate offices to create one open-plan office space. Within this open space, Braem’s murals will be better reflected. These refer directly to the free university, they tell a wonderful story about the origins of the cosmos and the earth, the origins of man and his ascent to the ultimate freedom in an open, creative society.” The murals are on the concrete structure in the centre of the building,
where the sanitary facilities, stairs, lifts and storage areas are located. After the construction works, these murals will also be restored.

 

Curious?

 

Until 7 December there will be an exhibition in the stairwell of Building D, featuring drawings of the rectorate building by Renaat Braem and photos by photographer and VUB staff member Jean Cosyn. There is also a video about the restoration from the original model of the building, and a number of older artworks with the Braemgebouw as their subject. From October, tours are available on request
via braem@vub.be

 

On 21 October, you can join an excursion by the Alumni Society to the theatre production Braempraat, by Dimitri Leue. This is based on the pamphlet ‘The Ugliest Country in the World’, by Renaat Braem. Sign up here.

 

A brochure has also been published that will be distributed on the VUB campuses and which will be available on the VUB heritage webpage.

 

And a campaign has been launched to raise additional funds.