Ateliers de construction
: A first exploration of Belgian iron and steel workshops in the 19th and 20th centuries

  • Gertjan Baesberg ((PhD) Student)

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Ateliers de constructions, or construction workshops in English, are companies that used iron and steel elements to assemble a structure like a bridge, gasometer or metal frame designed for the construction sector in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These companies were active in the construction sector and handled in between the producer of the basic elements of a construction and the end consumer. For a certain structure, mostly the architect or engineer is known, but the construction workshop that delivered the finished products was unknown, except for a few rare ateliers that remained famous for their constructions A general overview of such companies, ateliers de constructions, was lacking and needed to be made to fully understand the construction sector at the time. An overview is important to be able to place newly found information in a certain context. By investigating what was already known about these construction workshop, it became clear that the naming was not always precise: sometimes ateliers de construction or ateliers was used to describe construction activities next to the construction sector. After the first steps in the research, it was apparent that some companies made catalogues to show their capabilities, and some these catalogues are preserved in archives. Two main archival sources were visited to search for information on these construction workshops and to keep track of every piece of information, a database was made. Next to archival material, there were important sources that sporadically mentioned a construction workshop, and based on this, more companies have been discovered. During the research, it became clear that a precise definition was needed for this thesis, to limit the number of ateliers that needed to be discussed or included in the ongoing research. This allowed to classify every construction workshop into one of three categories: ateliers de construction, presumable ateliers de construction and the workshops that fell out of the scope of this research.
Around 50 ateliers de construction have been discussed and are listed in the annexe to this thesis. By means of maps, an overview of the active ateliers in Belgium has been created. Both dispersed ateliers as clustered ateliers were present, but the clustering only occurred in Wallonia. When looked at in a timeframe, the construction workshops became popular in the first half of the nineteenth century, having a boost, and knew its heyday around the switch to the twentieth century. Most of the ateliers were active around this key point in time, where steel became embraced as a construction material. In the twentieth century, a steady decline in the number of ateliers began. In the second part of the research, focus was laid on the complex history of a specific construction workshop in Brugge. A visit was paid to the company and the city archives, to be able to fully grasp the size and importance of this construction workshop. The final list of ateliers de constructions is a non-exhaustive list, since more ateliers can be added when proof is found that they were active in the construction sector. By making this list, based on the definition and selection criteria, not all of the research questions could be answered, since some questions need very specific answers that could not be responded with the current amount of information on some ateliers.
The construction workshops in Belgium that we inherit from the past switched activities when they needed to and dropped the construction sector when it was not appropriate to continue this business. nevertheless, their construction history stays interesting to investigate further, and lots of information can still be discovered and added to the current research.
Date of AwardSep 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
SupervisorIne Wouters (Promotor), Romain Wibaut (Advisor) & Bernard Espion (Promotor)

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