The Odd One Out? Revisiting the Belgian Welfare State


  • Cor Wagenaar



Michael Ryckewaert publication Building the Economic Backbone of the Belgian Welfare State. Infrastructure, planning and architecture 1945-1973 describes the evolution of the welfare state and Belgium, more specifically its spatial characteristics. This by now historical socio-political model had decidedly collectivist traits, culminating in the provision of social security networks and a vast expansion of the public domain. If collectivism was one of the key elements of the welfare state, the absence of centralized planning appears to make the Belgian variant somewhat problematic.

Whereas in countries like the Netherlands, Germany and France, modernism became the house style of the welfare state, thanks to the massive investments in public housing, this did not happen in Belgium. Here, the De Taeye Act of 1948 sponsored the construction of individual, detached houses; not surprisingly, most clients preferred traditional architecture and refrained from modern experiments. Industrial parks, office buildings and shops, on the other hand, developed into the cornerstones of Belgian modern architecture after 1945. Both the low-density sprawl and the industrial parks depend heavily on the use of the car, which was accommodated by the construction of a network of highways.

Author Biography

Cor Wagenaar

Cor Wagenaar is Associate Professor at the Institute of History of Art, Architecture and Urbanism at TU Delft. His PhD-thesis of 1993 focused on the reconstruction of Rotterdam. He co-authored the monographic exhibition and catalogue J.J.P. Oud. Poetic Functionalist 1890-1963 (2001). He is the author and editor of numerous books, among them Healthcare Architecture in the Netherlands (2010) and Town Planning in the Netherlands since 1800. Responses to Enlightenment Ideals and Geopolitical Realities (2011).