- Museum of the National Bank of Belgium - https://www.nbbmuseum.be/en -

This way to the money. Come and see the banking hall at the National Bank

Have you ever had occasion to enter the imposing banking hall at the National Bank of Belgium? Do you know what it looks like and the reasons why ordinary people go there? You go in via the main NBB entrance just a few steps away from the Temporary Museum. The time has come to devote this new  edition of Spotlight to the banking hall.

Lokettenzaal met Theys [1]

The banking hall today © Museum of the National Bank

The banking hall, like the whole of the National Bank’s head office building, was designed by Marcel Van Goethem, a Brussels architect, born on 7 June 1900, who joined the National Bank on 1 February 1940. He also designed the new Hôtel des Monnaies and was the main architect of the 1958 universal exhibition in Brussels. In addition, he was a lecturer in civic architecture at the Université libre de Bruxelles. The Bank of Ceylon also commissioned him to design its new headquarters in Colombo, but he died on 1 June 1960 before he was able to complete that assignment.

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Construction of the National Bank’s current premises © Museum of the National Bank

The foundation stone of the building was laid soon after the Second World War, on 20 January 1948. The building is divided into two separate parts, the administrative offices and the banknote printing works, linked by an underground passage 32 metres long. The banking hall comprises two large rooms about 200 metres long and more than eight metres high, separated by a central staircase. These rooms feature two rows of columns echoing the ones on the main façade of the building. They are fitted with what was modern lighting for those days, consisting of fluorescent tubes. They also conceal the rainwater pipes coming down from the roof. A lightly vaulted ceiling rests on the double colonnade. Located beneath two massive glass and metal roofs, the ceiling is made of more than 9000 squares of translucent white polycarbonate which act as light boxes. Thanks to their pyramidal shape, dust does not accumulate on them and slides down into the structure’s metal valleys. That improves the daylight and makes maintenance easier. The banking hall is therefore constantly bathed in natural light which varies in intensity according to the seasons and the weather.

View of the banking hall in the 1950s © Museum of the National Bank [3]

View of the banking hall in the 1950s © Museum of the National Bank

Metal structure of the glass roof over the banking hall © Patrick Van Den Branden, NBB [4]

Metal structure of the glass roof over the banking hall © Patrick Van Den Branden, NBB

Restoration of the glass roof has been in progress since mid-January. The work will take two years and is being done for two reasons. The steel structure supporting the glass roof urgently needed replacing because it was wearing out. In fact, it had become too fragile for any maintenance or repair to be carried out. The project is also intended to increase the insulation of the buildings by installing a second glass roof at the fourth floor level. That will avoid the need to do anything to the walls and frameworks.

Restoration project : glass roof of the banking hall © Ney&DOK Architecten [5]

Restoration project : glass roof of the banking hall © Ney&DOK Architecten

Like the entire National Bank building, the banking hall is designed in accordance with the building’s purpose. While the monumental character of the architecture expresses the dignity of the premises, the obvious security features such as blind walls accentuate the confidence inspired by the guardian of the currency. The simple alignment of the windows and the colonnades reflects the utilitarian character of the institution.

As well as going to admire the building’s refined, monumental architecture, visitors can conduct various transactions in the NBB banking hall. As soon as they go through the door they are asked to use a touch screen to select what they want to do and obtain a ticket directing them to the appropriate counters. For instance, anyone who still has Belgian franc notes issued by the National Bank after 1944 can change them for the euro equivalent. At the end of 2014, there were in fact more than 15 million Belgian franc notes still in circulation, taking all denominations together.

 

Touch screen at the entrance to the banking hall © Museum of the National Bank [6]

Touch screen at the entrance to the banking hall © Museum of the National Bank

People also often come with a bag of euro coins to exchange for the equivalent in banknotes of the same currency. The Bank will exchange up to 5 kilos of coins per person per month free of charge. Scales are available at the entrance to the hall, and it is not even necessary to sort the coins. Euro notes can be exchanged for euro coins up to a maximum of € 3000 per month. Finally, a damaged euro banknote can also be exchanged for a new one so long as the damage was not deliberate and more than half of the banknote is presented.

The NBB also manages the Central Individual Credit Register and the Central Corporate Credit Register. The Individual Credit Register records loans contracted for private purposes by individuals, and any defaults on those loans. Lenders automatically consult the register before granting any credit. Consumers can also inspect the data recorded against their name in the Central Register. They can do so via the internet or by post, but they can equally go the NBB banking hall or to one of the Bank’s branches. The Central Corporate Credit Register performs the same role in regard to loans to legal entities such as companies and to individual persons in connection with their occupation.

Finally, the securities counter is the place to trade securities and redeem public debt securities and coupons.

The banking hall is normally open from Monday to Friday, from 09.00 to 15.30; if you haven’t done so yet, make time to go and take a look !

Stéfane Antoine
Museum guide

Bibliography

Thanks to Marleen Reeskens, head of division of the Equipment and Technical Facilities Service, for the information and illustrations on the subject of the glass roof restoration.