renovation of buildings from 1860-1920 with a metallic framework

Project Details


The reuse of historic premises is an important but complex contemporary aspect of the building industry. At the moment, however, one is confronted with a lack of information concerning old construction techniques, calculation methods, material characteristics and modern techniques to examine, repair, strengthen and maintain a construction. As a consequence, it is difficult for architects and engineers to study the feasibility and estimate the cost of a renovation.
Especially in the case of buildings from 1860 until 1920 with a metallic structural framework this poses a problem, as the production of iron and steel evolved quickly during that period. The production process had not yet been finalized and, consequently, the quality of the iron and steel fluctuated to a high extent. Moreover, often the difference between Bessemer, Thomas and Siemens-Martin steel was ignored. This resulted in an over or under dimensioning of constructive elements, connections,... From 1920 onwards, the situation in Belgium became less problematic because the production was largely limited to Thomas steel (± 85 % of the annual production). Furthermore, the first standards were fixed.
But architecture changed as well. The Belgian architecture set the tone in iron and steel building between 1860 and 1920. Prominent architects, such as Hankar, Balat, Horta and Saintenoy, built impressive mansions, schools, winter gardens, halls and stations that, nowadays, are recognized as historical heritage. To these pioneers of the modern 19th-century architecture, the problematic nature of the construction and building techniques were just as important as the social meaning of their work. Their experimental attitude was primarily focussed on the development of new techniques, which were of primordial importance for the new material cast iron, and later for wrought iron and steel. These experiments quite often produced new methods in the Belgian as well as in the international context.
The examples of the great masters of the Belgian architecture must be supplemented with the realisations of several Belgian engineers. During the pioneering phase, halfway the 19th century, the scientist Jean Baptiste Jobard devoted himself to admit cast iron in the new architecture. Texts of his were published by the periodical 'Journal d'Architecture'. Later, they were adopted, amongst others, by the internationally influential 'Revue Générale de l'Architecture et des Travaux Publics' (Paris). Even the professor Adolphe Pauli (1820-1895) and his successor Louis Cloquet (1849-1920) from Ghent dedicated themselves to incorporate metallic structures in architecture; the internationally renowned professor Arthur Vierendeel (1852-1940) published, amongst other things, the important 'La construction en fonte, fer et acier' (1893). During more than half a century, his work 'Cours de stabilité des constructions' (1889) was an important reference book.
In spite of the international interest and their often innovative qualities, these constructions have never received sufficient attention in Belgian historiography. Until now, the focus has mainly been on the visual culture, the architectural theory and architectural history. Therefore, many constructions or public works have never been included in several investigations into the Belgian art of building, even though they are often pioneering structures, from the architectural point of view, as well as from the standpoint of calculation and execution method.

However, the recognition of the intrinsic value of the construction is the starting point of a successful renovation. It is therefore essential to supplement the existing knowledge of architectural history and art history of the Belgian building art with an architectural and technical section, since it is of the utmost importance to the actual approach and reconversion of the historical patrimony to gain better insight into these constructions. Nowadays, when reusing the architectural and constructional patrimony, two (often contrary) requirements must be taken into account: on the one hand the present performance standards, and on the other hand the preservation of the individuality of the historic patrimony. It forms a surplus value to possess a methodological reference work that lists historical construction techniques, calculation methods, material characteristics, that explains research methods and that focuses on the most common building mistakes and their solutions. These topics have already been investigated in foreign countries, but the results are not applicable to Belgian situation.

The goal of the research is to compile a reference work for the reuse of buildings from 1860-1920 with a metallic structural framework. Taking the existing national and international literature (about the Belgian Architecture, restoration techniques and the reuse of metal structures) into account, this comes to:
determine the international role of heritage buildings on construction area
gather, group, complete, handle and convert data about production techniques, materials, construction
details, building- and calculation techniques on the structural steelwork of Belgian buildings from 1860-1920
distillate, set up and write out a methodology for the reuse of structural steelwork

Effective start/end date1/01/0731/12/10


  • building structures
  • 19th century
  • wrought iron
  • renovation
  • steel
  • iron

Flemish discipline codes

  • Civil and building engineering
  • Other engineering and technology