Royal Greenhouses in Laeken

Royal Greenhouses in Laeken

During the 19th century, progress in construction techniques, especially the use of metal and glass as construction materials, made a new type of building possible: the greenhouse.

In 1873, architect Alphonse Balat designed for King Leopold II a complex of greenhouses which complement the castle of Laeken, built in the classical style. The complex has the appearance of a glass city set in an undulating landscape.

The monumental pavilions, glass cupolas, wide arcades that cross the site like covered streets, are much more than an anecdote on the architectural applications of iron and glass or on little greenhouses of exotic plants. What the Royal Greenhouses express concerns architecture and, specifically, a major construction programme: the "Ideal Glass Palace".

They are the culmination of various meetings, letters, sketches and plans exchanged between architect Alphonse Balat and King Leopold II. But above all, they are a reminder that they inspired the new Belgian architecture of the day, and their influence spread, with Art Nouveau, throughout the world.

The present-day plant collection at the Greenhouses in Laeken is valuable from three viewpoints. First of all, some of the plants belonging to Leopold II's original collections still exist. Furthermore, the current collections still respect the spirit that prevailed when the original collections were planted. Finally, the Royal Greenhouses still contain an enormous number of rare and valuable plants.

Each year, in the spring, the Greenhouses of Laeken are opened to the public, during almost three weeks. This tradition has been carried on for a century.

Overall view

Built on the initiative of King Leopold II, The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are among the main monuments of the 19th century in Belgium. They were built entirely of metal and glass, which was a spectacular innovation at the time.

The greenhouses house a sizeable collection of plants and flowers, particularly exotic ones, including a very important collection of camellias. Each year in the spring, the greenhouses are opened to the general public, which demonstrates the desire of the current Sovereigns to share their love of plants and flowers with everyone.

The Pier (outside)

Built in 1886-1887, the Pier Greenhouse was intended to receive guests when the King was holding court in the Winter Garden or the Dining Room Greenhouse.

The Pier (inside)

The staircase leads to the Winter Garden. At the ends of the Pier are two statues by Charles Van der Stappen, Dawn and Evening. Medinillas (a tropical plant from the Philippines) are laid out in Chinese vases brought back by King Leopold II from a trip to the Far East while he was still Duke of Brabant.

The Winter Garden

Designed by architect Alphonse Balat and built between 1874 and 1876, the Winter Garden was the first greenhouse in the imposing city of glass which would be built over thirty years on the Laeken estate. The dimensions of this greenhouse allowed tall palm trees, the majority of which date from the time of Leopold II. As soon as it was completed, this greenhouse was used for royal receptions.

Bibliography:

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  • Edgard Goedleven, "Les Serres royales de Laeken", Bruxelles, Racine & SFI, 1997.
  • Piet Lombaerde and Ronny Gobyn, "Léopold II Roi-Bâtisseur", Gand, Pandora, 1995.
  • Liane Ranieri, "Léopold II urbaniste", Bruxelles, Hayez, 1973.
  • Irène Smets, "The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken", Ghent, Ludion, 2001.
  • Emiel Vandewoude, Jos Vandenbreeden, Paul Van Gorp, "Les Serres royales à Laeken", Bruxelles, Donation Royale, 1981.
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