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‘Il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité.’ On the administrative buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels

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Abstract
The architectural historiography of the last decades has dealt extensively with the ‘architecture of power’ in colonized territories (e.g. the literature on urbanization schemes and public buildings in Rabat or New Delhi). Yet, seldom have architectural historians paid attention to the buildings in which the colonial administrations were housed in the mother countries. This ‘architecture of bureaucracy’ was, nonetheless, essential for the ‘good governance’ of the overseas territories: after all, all colonial powers relied on a domestic corps of public servants, who had to be provided with adequate office spaces. In this contribution to the JDS, I would like to present the Belgian case (1885-1960) as a remarkable example of discussions on ‘administrative colonial architecture’ in a mother country. By the 1950s, the Belgian state had created a propagandistic image of the Belgian Congo as a ‘model’ colony, which was (supposedly) ideal in terms of administration and governance. Yet, at the same time, it was recognized by administrators and politicians that the Brussels-based Ministry of Colonies was housed in a series of rather ‘unrepresentative’ office buildings. Moreover, like so many ministerial offices in Belgium, these buildings were dispersed throughout the capital, thereby impeding rectilinear workflows and an efficient communication between services. In the early 1950s, a plan for the construction of a new, large, and ‘representative’ ministerial office building was elaborated, since it was felt that ‘il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité’. However, this building was never constructed, and by 1955, it was decided that the Ministry of Colonies had to be integrated in the so-called ‘State Administrative Centre’: a major office complex in which all ministerial services had to be concentrated. By the time the Belgian Congo became independent, only the foundations for this complex had been completed. Using a conceptual dichotomy first developed by Walter Bagehot, I will discuss the office buildings for the Ministry of Colonies as examples of ‘efficient’ parts of the Belgian colonial state, as opposed to ‘dignified’ parts. To what extent does a (colonial) state indeed require ‘dignified’ official buildings in order to function efficiently? I will demonstrate that this question has led to elaborate debates within Belgian political and administrative circles, from the 1920s up until the end of colonialism in the early 1960s.

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MLA
Van de Maele, Jens. “‘Il Est Nécessaire Aussi Que, Sur Le Sol Belge, La Présence Du Congo Soit Une Réalité.’ On the Administrative Buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels.” Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts. 2015. Print.
APA
Van de Maele, J. (2015). “Il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité.” On the administrative buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels. Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts. Presented at the Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture.
Chicago author-date
Van de Maele, Jens. 2015. “‘Il Est Nécessaire Aussi Que, Sur Le Sol Belge, La Présence Du Congo Soit Une Réalité.’ On the Administrative Buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels.” In Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Van de Maele, Jens. 2015. “‘Il Est Nécessaire Aussi Que, Sur Le Sol Belge, La Présence Du Congo Soit Une Réalité.’ On the Administrative Buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels.” In Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts.
Vancouver
1.
Van de Maele J. “Il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité.” On the administrative buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels. Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts. 2015.
IEEE
[1]
J. Van de Maele, “‘Il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité.’ On the administrative buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels,” in Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts, Ghent, Belgium, 2015.
@inproceedings{5974317,
  abstract     = {The architectural historiography of the last decades has dealt extensively with the ‘architecture of power’ in colonized territories (e.g. the literature on urbanization schemes and public buildings in Rabat or New Delhi). Yet, seldom have architectural historians paid attention to the buildings in which the colonial administrations were housed in the mother countries. This ‘architecture of bureaucracy’ was, nonetheless, essential for the ‘good governance’ of the overseas territories: after all, all colonial powers relied on a domestic corps of public servants, who had to be provided with adequate office spaces. In this contribution to the JDS, I would like to present the Belgian case (1885-1960) as a remarkable example of discussions on ‘administrative colonial architecture’ in a mother country. 

By the 1950s, the Belgian state had created a propagandistic image of the Belgian Congo as a ‘model’ colony, which was (supposedly) ideal in terms of administration and governance. Yet, at the same time, it was recognized by administrators and politicians that the Brussels-based Ministry of Colonies was housed in a series of rather ‘unrepresentative’ office buildings. Moreover, like so many ministerial offices in Belgium, these buildings were dispersed throughout the capital, thereby impeding rectilinear workflows and an efficient communication between services. In the early 1950s, a plan for the construction of a new, large, and ‘representative’ ministerial office building was elaborated, since it was felt that ‘il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité’. However, this building was never constructed, and by 1955, it was decided that the Ministry of Colonies had to be integrated in the so-called ‘State Administrative Centre’: a major office complex in which all ministerial services had to be concentrated. By the time the Belgian Congo became independent, only the foundations for this complex had been completed. Using a conceptual dichotomy first developed by Walter Bagehot, I will discuss the office buildings for the Ministry of Colonies as examples of ‘efficient’ parts of the Belgian colonial state, as opposed to ‘dignified’ parts. To what extent does a (colonial) state indeed require ‘dignified’ official buildings in order to function efficiently? I will demonstrate that this question has led to elaborate debates within Belgian political and administrative circles, from the 1920s up until the end of colonialism in the early 1960s.},
  author       = {Van de Maele, Jens},
  booktitle    = {Joint Doctoral Seminar : Theory and History of Architecture, Abstracts},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Ghent, Belgium},
  title        = {‘Il est nécessaire aussi que, sur le sol belge, la présence du Congo soit une réalité.’ On the administrative buildings of the Ministry of Colonies in Brussels},
  year         = {2015},
}