Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) Belgian Architect and Designer

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Facade of the Hôtel Solvay designed by Victor Horta
Facade of the Hôtel Solvay designed by Victor Horta

Victor Horta (1861–1947) was a Belgian architect and designer. He is considered one of the founders of the Art Nouveau movement. His Hôtel Tassel, built-in 1892–93, is often considered Belgium’s first house. Four of the buildings he designed have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1884, Horta won the first Prix Godecharle to be awarded for architecture for a proposed new building for the Belgian Parliament.

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Education

In 1876, he studied architecture at the academy in Ghent and at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels until 1881.

Biography

An enthusiastic disciple of Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Horta took on the design of the building and its entire contents, including chandeliers, furniture, door handles, and key escutcheons. He was sympathetic to Viollet-le-Duc’s view that structure was in itself an architectural expression.

In 1892, the Free University of Brussels put him in charge of the Department of Graphic Design for Architecture.

Architecture

Horta worked for some time in the office of the neoclassical architect Balat. Rejecting historicism, he developed his own style beginning in 1892, exposing the building’s framework, including its iron pilasters, balustrades, and window frames; this exercise created an association between the framework and the interior furnishings.

Belgium’s Hôtel Solvay was the first appearance of Art Nouveau in architecture. In 2000, along with three other townhouses designed by Horta, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Curving lines inspired by vines and flowers were repeated in ironwork railings and tiles. The Hôtel Aubecq was one of the last houses designed by Horta in the Art Nouveau style. It featured a skylight over the central staircase, and three facades with windows, designed to give maximum light.

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The Maison du Peuple/Volkshuis was the headquarters for the Belgian Workers’ Party from 1895 to 1899. In 1903, Victor Horta designed the Grand Bazar Anspach in Brussels. In 1906, he accepted the commission for the new Brugmann University Hospital. The Magasins Waucquez was originally a department store specialising in textiles. After his death in 1920, the building began to languish, and in 1970, the firm closed its doors. The Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, completed in 1929, is considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau.

In 1910, Horta began working on drawings for his most ambitious and longest-running project, Brussels Central Station. He was formally commissioned as the architect in 1913, but work did not begin until after World War II.

Style

Horta, like many other Art Nouveau artists, frequently incorporated plant-like forms in his architectural designs. Some of his most representative designs include those of the Hotel Tassel and the Hotel Solvay. Both of these works are characterised by intricately wrought iron work on the exteriors and interiors, the adherence to an open plan, and the emphasis on organic and natural forms—all representative features of Horta’s work. These themes were especially revolutionary for the development of modern architecture because Horta was one of the few architects of his time to use iron in a domestic setting.

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He died in 1947, still working at the Brussels station “and the building was completed to his plans by his colleagues led by Maxime Brunfaut. It eventually opened on 4 October 1952”  (Victor Horta | Architectuul, n.d.)

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

Horta, Victor – A Dictionary of Modern Architecture. (2015, November 16). Horta, Victor – a Dictionary of Modern Architecture. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://voices.uchicago.edu/201504arth15709-01a2/2015/11/16/horta-victor/

Victor Horta | Architectuul. (n.d.). Architectuul. Retrieved January 7, 2023, from https://architectuul.com/architect/victor-horta

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