In a nutshell
It all began fairly modestly in 1850. The newly established National Bank of Belgium first rented a mansion on the Montagne aux Herbes Potagères as its Brussels head office. It later bought a building on the corner of the rue des Abricots and the Nouvelle Rue royale. In 1851 it opened twenty-four branches in the main Belgian towns.
Eventually the head office proved to be far too cramped. To solve that problem, when the forecourt of St Michael’s Cathedral was being redeveloped, the Bank took the opportunity to buy properties on the rue du Bois Sauvage and the former rue de Berlaimont. A design competition was held, and Henri Beyaert (1823 – 1894) and Wynand Janssens (1827 – 1913) won the contract for the new bank building and adjoining governor’s residence (Hôtel).
The work started in late 1860, but it was 1865 before the first departments moved in to their new premises. The finishing and the interior decorating took even longer, and it was 1874 before everything was ready. The result was a mixture in which the majestic classical style adopted in the governor’s residence, richly decorated with symbolic and allegorical elements, contrasted with the sometimes entirely modern-looking materials such as glass and steel, used in the areas intended for the public and in the banking hall.
Since both the activities and the workforce of the Bank were constantly expanding, the architect Beyaert was asked to extend the headquarters for the first time in 1871. At the beginning of the 20th century, a new wing was added to Beyaert’s building, but the Bank continued to suffer from a shortage of space.
Following his appointment, Governor Georges Janssen (1900 – 1959) therefore initiated plans for new buildings; the construction of the north-south rail link was the perfect catalyst. Under the direction of architect Marcel Van Goethem (1900 – 1959), new modern-style offices were constructed in the 1950s, with an impressive banking hall and a new printing works.
In 2010, the National Bank of Belgium inaugurated the restored building of the former Union du crédit de Bruxelles, an exceptional example of late 19th century bank architecture. It was built in 1872 by Brussels architect Désiré De Keyser in a commercial district, just a stone’s throw away from the central avenues of the city. Taken over by United California Bank in 1969, the building went into the 1980s in the hands of the National Bank, which carried out a major restoration of its façade. But the interior had to wait until the end of the renovation work on the surrounding complex until it could undergo a meticulous restoration.
The central window is supported, at a height of 18 metres, by a steel structure forming a barrel vault. The staircase leading to the gallery upstairs is lit up by stately bronze girandole candelabras. Originally cast at the Compagnie des bronzes, these lights were identically replicated during the restoration work.
An elegant wrought-iron railing overlooks the former counter room, under the natural light through a second window. Apart from the metallic elements, the décor is largely based on Gothic-inspired stuccos.
On the wall at the far end, a huge tapestry commissioned from the young artist Pieter Vermeersch depicts the theme of reflection and memory.
- About the history of the NBB premises from 1850 to 1964: in French (pdf – 14 197k) – in Dutch (pdf – 16 912k)
- About the history of the NBB premises from 1850 to 2000: in French (pdf – 2442k) – in Dutch (pdf – 2424k)
- About the façade of the Hôtel of the governor in the rue du Bois Sauvage
- About the architect Beyaert
- About the Compagnie des Bronzes and lighting at the Bank
- About the premises of the branches: Historique des agences (pdf – 44k)
- About the premises of the Antwerp branch: Ontstaan van een monument (pdf – 532k) (in Dutch only)
- About the UCB building – Watch the video
- Photos of NBB buildings on Flickr
- Rue du Bois sauvage
Available in the museum library
(on appointment only: +32 2 221 22 06)
- L’architecture éclectique d’Henri Beyaert, catalogue d’exposition, Bruxelles, BNB musée, 1978
- J. VICTOIR, J. VANDERPERREN, Henri Beyaert. Du Classicisme à l’Art Nouveau, Sint-Martens-Latem, Éditions De Dijle, 1992
- W. PLUYM (éd.), The Hôtel of the Governor of the National Bank of Belgium, Anvers, Pandora, 1995
- NBB Antwerpen. Een gebouw, een eeuw, catalogue d’exposition, Bruxelles, BNB musée, 1979
- M. VAN GOETHEM, Construction des nouveaux bâtiments de la Banque Nationale de Belgique à Bruxelles, in: Annales de l’Institut technique du Bâtiment et des Travaux publics, n°. 184, mars – avril 1951, pp. 2 – 18
- M. VAN GOETHEM, Immeuble de la Banque Nationale à Bruxelles, in: Rythme, n°. 15, juin 1953, pp. 6 – 13
- L. NOVGORODSKY, Les nouveaux bâtiments de la Banque Nationale de Belgique à Bruxelles, in: La technique des travaux, 29, 1953, n°s. 7-8, pp. 215 – 236
- Marcel Van Goethem, architecte D.P.L.G. Oeuvres et études, 1940 – 1959, Bruxelles, BNB, 1959
- M. DE BEULE, C. DESSOUROUX (éds.), Bruxelles, ses bureaux, ses employés. Observatoire des bureaux, numéro spécial, Bruxelles, Ministère de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale et La Fonderie, 2009
- E. VANDEWEGHE, Municipal imagery and regionalist architecture in the aftermath of the First World War. Branches of the National Bank of Belgium in Flanders, in: L. MEGANCK, L. VAN SANTVOORT, J. DE MAEYER (eds.), Regionalism and Modernity. Architecture in Western Europe 1914-1940, Leuven, Leuven University Press, 2013, pp. 110-133