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VICTOR HORTA
 
 
 
 
  Name Victor Pierre Horta
     
  Born January 6, 1861
     
  Died September 8, 1947
     
  Nationality Belgium
     
  School  
     
  Official website  
     
 
BIOGRAPHY      
   

Victor Horta was the leading European architect of the move-
ment to create a modern architecture in the 1890s. His work
blended a structural rationalism influenced by the writings of
E.E. Viollet-le-Duc with a personal, curvilinear decoration de-
rived from abstracted botanic form as proposed by V.-M.-C.
Ruprich-Robert to produce works of astounding internal spatial
complexity and organic completeness. Horta’s buildings were
complete works of art for which, when given the opportunity,
he designed every object, from furniture and table linens to
doorknobs and andirons. Often remembered as one of the practi-
tioners of the Art Nouveau style, Horta was in fact the chief
inventor of that style. More than that, his ability to use iron
and glass in place of load-bearing masonry remained unsurpassed
among turn-of-the-century architects.

Born in Ghent in 1861, Horta briefly studied music at the
local conservatory before enrolling in the architecture course at
the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. In 1878, he traveled to
Paris to work for an interior decorator, returning to Ghent on his
father’s death in 1880. The following year, he married, moved
to Brussels, undertook the study of architecture at the Brussels
academy, and began drafting for Alphonse Balat, the royal archi-
tect to King Leopold II, whose work reflected a rational, if classi-
cal, approach to architecture. Horta work intermittently for
Balat until 1891.

In Paris in the late 1870s, Horta discovered the power of
Beaux-Arts design, as exemplified by both the urban planning of
Baron Haussmann’s boulevards and the architecture of Charles
Garnier’s opera house. Returning in 1889 for the world’s fair,
he was similarly drawn to the Galerie des Machines, an iron-

and-glass building whose trusses spanned almost 400 feet. He
was amazed not only by the possibilities of Victor Contamin’s
engineering but also by the curvilinear decoration created by the
architect Charles Dutert.

Horta’s pavilion for Jef Lambeaux’s “Passions Humaines,”
begun in 1889, reveals a search for a new expression within the
vocabulary of classicism. In the Autriche house (1893), Horta
first explored a more original decorative vocabulary based on
abstracted botanic forms and simple geometry. Yet neither pre-
pares us for the extraordinary accomplishment of his next build-
ing, the Tassel house (1893). Within the parameters of the stan-
dard Brussels townhouse—party walls with its neighbors to the
sides, built to the street, and with an open yard behind—Horta
began an architectural revolution. He split the building into two
parts and connected them with a metal-and-glass circulation
zone that brought natural light into the whole building. He set
the whole composition in motion by melding his new curvilinear
decoration to the structural systems. Horta developed this solu-
tion into its most elaborate form in the Solvay house (1894)
and into its most perfect form in the Van Eetvelde house (1895).

Horta brought this approach to nondomestic architecture in
1895 at la Maison du Peuple, the Brussels headquarters of the
Belgian Workers Party, which contained large and small lecture
halls, meeting rooms, a coffee house, and commercial shops. He
combined structural iron freely exposed in a “rational” manner

with sinuous curves of iron, wood, and masonry to produce a
work of great expressive power that is clearly organized.

Horta’s mature style was perfectly tuned to the values of the
haute bourgeoisie of the 1890s throughout Europe. His architec-
ture strongly influenced emerging architects, such as Hector
Guimard, whereas the superficial aspects of his decorative forms
were easily copied by lesser designers. Horta’s very popularity
contributed to a rapid change of taste in the middle of the first
decade that left him without sufficient clients to continue inves-
tigating the problems posed in the 1890s. His work gradually
became simpler in form and reflected a return to classicism.

Horta was deeply affected by the German occupation of Bel-
gium. In February 1915 he traveled to London to meet with
British architects and Belgians in exile to plan the rebuilding of
Belgium after the war. In December he continued to New York
to enlist the support of American architects. The proposed lec-
ture tour became a three-year exile. Returning home in 1919,
Horta was overwhelmed by the devastation.

Respected in Belgium as both master architect and teacher,
Horta in the 1920s was involved in a number of civic projects,
including a new gallery and concert hall, the central train station,
a major public hospital, and the Belgian Pavilion at the 1925
Paris World’s Fair. All these were expressed in an abstracted
classical manner. The rebuke of this work by early historians of

the Modern movement has been reversed by a recent generation
of historians, who find a continuity in approach despite a change
of style. The concert hall le Palais des Beaux-Arts (1920), built
of reinforced concrete, has come to be regarded as Horta’s most
accomplished work. Although the massing of rectilinear solids
that characterizes this building has more in common with Art
Deco than with the emerging International Style, the design
exhibits the same expressive rationalism of Horta’s earlier work.
Horta’s work stands as an early expression of the possibility
of incorporating the cataclysmic changes brought about by the
industrial revolution into a system of design that, like the great
historic styles of past, reflects contemporary values and possibili-

ties.
Paut Kruty


 
 
 
 
 
 
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