Wednesday, 17 July 2013


In July 1979, I set off on my own around Europe with an InterRail pass. One of the most vivid pictures I have is of 'Brussels North' railway station. In particular, the entrance hall. This was a huge rectangular hollow the size of a small cathedral which opened onto an expansive plaza. (Indeed, some cathedrals I have visited have been a lot smaller.)
There was something that immediately fascinated me about the building; something grew that was more like an affection than a mere attraction. This is perhaps not surprising given my fascination with rectangles and right angles. Everything about the building, inside and out, was rectilinear - apart from the slightly arced ceiling. Finished construction in the early 1950s, there was something about the architectural that was typically post-war European.
I was not able to make a return visit for another 30 years or so. In that time, the plaza had been built upon and the environs of the station had become quite different. Within the heart of the cathedral hall there were now an accumulation of mismatching kiosks, outlets and left luggage lockers that did not fit the ambience or spirit of the building at all. The floor tiles, laid out to suit an empty interior, were now partially covered in unsympathetic ways by these encroachments. In short, the internal space that made the building what it once was had been violated. The only comfort to be had was that of knowing that the fabric of the building hadn't, it seemed, been altered and that the interior could be restored by throwing the stallholders out of the temple.