Brussels iron and steel builders in the 19th and 20th centuries: a macroeconomic and spatial exploration

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In construction history research, the focus is often on large and prominent enterprises, whilst small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain largely overlooked. Yet, in Brussels, like in other major cities like London, 67% of construction workers were employed in SMEs in 1896 – a number that remained relatively constant until today. Accordingly, these historically long-neglected members of the urban construction industry were largely responsible for meeting the growing demand for building and ongoing maintenance during
the city’s expansion during the 19th and 20th centuries. SMEs can, therefore, be considered as equally crucial and persistent players in urban construction economies. This paper seeks to sketch a broader framework of the Brussels’ construction industry during the past two centuries, including both SMEs and larger enterprises. We particularly focus on iron and steel builders, including merchants, foundries, forges and steel joiners, yet also draw comparisons with another subsector, namely joiners and carpenters.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistory of Construction Cultures
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 7th international congress on construction history
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherCRC Press
ISBN (Print)978-1-032-00199-9
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event7th International Congress on Construction History - Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 12 Jul 202116 Jul 2021


Conference7th International Congress on Construction History
Abbreviated title7ICCH
Internet address


  • Construction History
  • Brussels
  • Iron and steel builders


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