Construction of Church Roofs in the Brussels Capital Region, 1830-1930: Ahead of Technology?

Romain Wibaut, Ine Wouters, Thomas Coomans

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper

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Although churches are not the first building typology one thinks of when discussing structural innovation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, previous research has revealed the innovative use of new materials in churches. As early as 1813-16, three churches were built in Liverpool with entirely cast-iron internal structures; in 1840-45, engineer Émile Martin and locksmith Théophile Mignon combined cast and wrought iron to rebuild the roof trusses of the Cathedral of Chartres; and in 1899-1905, architect Anatole de Baudot adopted reinforced concrete to construct the Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre church in Paris. Nevertheless, general studies of the construction history of churches are lacking, except for the Netherlands. How did the many developments in building technology in this period affect church construction in Belgium, an early-industrialised country with a fast-growing population?

This paper focuses on the construction of church roofs in the Brussels Capital Region. This Region presently includes the historic centre of Brussels and surrounding municipalities, which became urbanized from the 1860s to the 1930s. The timespan of the research covers the period from 1830 to 1930. As a starting point for the research, the independence of the Kingdom of Belgium was selected. From the point of view of the relationships between church and state, 1830 concluded a turbulent period. During the French anti-clerical regime, all Catholic churches were confiscated. This was followed by the Concordat of 1801 and the 1815 annexation to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which stipulated that parish churches had to be erected with public money and designed by state architects. The year 1930 marks the end of the period studied in order to include churches whose construction was delayed by World War I.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Construction History Society
EditorsJames Campbell, Nina Baker, Michael Driver, Michael Heaton, Yiting Pan, Treve Rosoman, David Yeomans
Place of PublicationCambridge
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2017
EventFourth Annual Construction History Society Conference - Queens' College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Apr 20179 Apr 2017


ConferenceFourth Annual Construction History Society Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Iron and steel structures
  • timber structures
  • Roof trusses
  • church roof
  • Concrete structures
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Twentieth Century


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