Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Brussels, Belgium: 1975

Europe suffers from a serious iconographic deficit, and Brussels is at the heart of it. I was astonished to discover that the buildings in which E.U. business takes place aren’t influenced by the E.U. at all; it has no input on the aesthetics of these buildings, all of which are commissioned and built by the Belgian government.

This has made the E.U. grotesquely vulnerable to allegations of facelessness. It is housed in default mode; it’s not like they even decided on modesty. What’s more, the architectural history of Brussels, beginning with the construction of the Palais de Justice in the late 19th century, is one of being perpetually raped in the name of modernization.

Once the E.U. buildings began to be built in the European Quarter beginning in the 1960s, Brussels’ citizens entered into a phase of paranoia about their city’s development. We have to reverse that syndrome. The buildings housing the E.U. institutions today are so mediocre that it doesn’t make sense for any of them to be considered permanent.

The discussion over the war in Iraq has made a vast contribution to Europe’s identity. Now the E.U. has to define its intentions and stop being passive recipients of architecture. The process is slow, but we’re not discouraged.

Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect and urban planner who was part of a group commissioned to examine Brussels’ role as “the capital of Europe"