HENRY VAN DE VELDE
F O U N D A T I O N
In memoriam Léon Ploegaerts (1935-2023)
A great van de Velde scholar has died.
Professor Emeritus at the University of Ottawa, Léon Ploegaerts passed away peacefully after a long illness at his home in Montreal on April 25, 2023 at the age of 87. Professor Ploegaerts’s life and career spanned three countries. Born 1935 in Brussels to a Flemish father and a Walloon mother, he would spend his youth as a war refugee in German-speaking Switzerland. After returning to Belgium to complete his secondary and higher education, he chose to pursue a career in Canada, where he led a distinguished career as an architect, urbanist, scholar, and teacher.
Professor Ploegaerts found his professional calling in architecture and urbanism after reading Victor Bourgeois’s L’architecte et son espace (1955), in which Bourgeois, a disciple and colleague of van de Velde, draws upon his decades of experience as a teacher and practitioner beginning in the aftermath of World War I. The same year the book was published, Professor Ploegaerts enrolled in the École National Supérieure des Arts Visuels at La Cambre (ENSAV La Cambre), an institute of higher education in design, architecture, fine and applied arts, and urbanism founded by Henry van de Velde in Brussels, where Bourgeois served on the faculty. Bourgeois’s combined interests in literature, architecture, urbanism, cinema, and social policy resonated with Ploegaerts and inspired his professional trajectory encompassing architecture and urban design as a scholar, practitioner, and educator.
In 1961, Prof. Ploegaerts was recruited by colleagues to pursue his career as an architect and urbanist in Canada, where he worked in both private and public sectors, including serving on the Canadian Corporation for the 1967 Montreal Universal Exposition. He complemented this professional work with further studies, earning his doctorate in Environmental Management from the Université de Montréal in 1975. In 1972, he received a professorship in the Department of Geography at the University of Ottawa, a position he held until his retirement in 2003.
Even as Professor Ploegaerts made his professional career in Canada, he maintained close contacts with Belgium, especially with a classmate from ENSAV La Cambre, the architect, urbanist, and poet Pierre Puttemans. In 1987, Ploegaerts and Puttemans co-authored the definitive catalogue of van de Velde’s architecture, L’oeuvre architecturale de Henry Van de Velde. Van de Velde’s work was a natural subject for both authors, as he had mentored their teachers at ENSAV La Cambre. The ties between Van de Velde and Ploegaerts’s teacher Victor Bourgeois were direct: along with his brother Pierre, Victor Bourgeois had worked in the 1920s to bring van de Velde back to Belgium from his exile in Switzerland; van de Velde would appoint Bourgeois to teach architecture and urbanism at La Cambre upon its founding in 1928; in 1939 the two collaborated on the design the Belgian pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair (Bourgeois designed the building’s cinema). For Bourgeois’s generation, van de Velde was the father of the modern movement in architecture, design, and urbanism in Belgium, a position he held until 1945, when he would be accused (but found innocent) of collaboration with the German military occupation. Ploegaerts and Puttemans worked to salvage van de Velde’s posthumous reputation in post-war Belgium. This first major publication on van de Velde, L’oeuvre architecturale would be followed by no fewer than nine publications on the artist (see below for a complete list of Professor Ploegaerts’s writings on van de Velde).
More than the quantity, the quality of Professor Ploegaerts’s writings sets them apart as distinguished works of scholarship. L’oeuvre architecturale provides a complete documentation of every building van de Velde designed, including built work and unrealized projects. This documentation is preceded by a deep and wide-ranging account of his career in all its successive phases as it developed in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United States. Ploegaerts and Puttemans left no stone unturned, including the difficult years of World War II; they were exceptional among van de Velde’s countrymen in recognizing the importance of his career without denying the complicated and often difficult political situations in which he worked. Professor Ploegaerts’s second major publication on van de Velde, Les mémoires inachevés d’un artiste européen, 2 vols (1999) is a critical edition of van de Velde’s unpublished memoir, which remained in the form of multiple overlapping manuscripts and fragments at the time of the artist’s death in 1957. Unlike heavily edited editions published beginning in 1962, Ploegaerts’s presents the manuscripts as they exist, allowing them to be read as documents of a rich, storied, and unsettled existence in which the artist actively strove, often during periods of exile and hardship, to shape his legacy. This critical edition includes the first complete bibliography of van de Velde’s published writings, including numerous books and hundreds of pamphlets and essays he published during his lifetime in French, German, and Flemish, which were among the most widely read texts on architecture and design in Western Europe prior to World War I. These foundational studies, among others by him, have provided the groundwork upon which current and future scholars have built.
A devoted teacher and scholar of architecture and urbanism, Professor Ploegaerts joined theory and practice. He was an active and trusted member of numerous professional associations, including the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, the Ordre des urbanistes du Québec, the Ordre des architects du Québec, the American Planning Association, the Chambre des urbanistes-conseils de Belgique, the Société belge des urbanistes et architects modernistes, the Société centrale d’architecture de Belgique, and the International Federation for Housing and Planning Den Hague.
Professor Ploegaerts was active until his death, generously sharing his deep knowledge with researchers, architects, planners, and friends. My work is very much indebted to him, and I am one of many who will miss his wise, supportive, and always informed counsel.
Bibliography of Léon Ploegaerts’s Publications on Henry van de Velde
“Les citadelles de Henry Van de Velde.” Les Cahiers de la Cambre 2 (May 1985): 126–35.
Co-authored with Pierre Puttemans, L’oeuvre architecturale de Henry Van de Velde. Brussels: Atelier Vokaer/Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 1987.
“Une oeuvre peu connue de Henry Van de Velde à Paris: Les projets de l’Hôtel von Goloubeff.” Revue belge d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de l’art LVIII (1989): 79–97.
“Henry van de Velde’s Only Work in the USA.” Docomomo 7 (June 1992): 56–59.
“In offizieller Mission. Henry van de Velde und die Weltausstellungen von Paris (1937) und New York (1939).” In Henry van de Velde. Ein europäischer Künstler in seiner Zeit, edited by Klaus J. Sembach and Birgit Schulte, 412–29. Cologne: Wienand, 1992.
“Souvenirs de Victor Bourgeois, professeur d’Achitecture à l’E.N.S.A.” Hommage à Victor Bourgeois à l’occasion du centennaire de sa naissance. Académie royale de Belgique, Classe des Beaux-Arts XIII (February 1998): 96–98.
“Van de Velde and Nietzsche or The Search for a New Architectural Style for the Man of the Future.” In Nietzsche and “An Architecture of Our Minds, edited by Alexandre Kostka and Irving Wohlfarth, 233–55. Santa Monica: The Getty Research Institute, 1999.
Henry Van de Velde, Les mémoires inachevés d’un artiste européen, Édition critique. 2 vols (Brusssels: Académie royale de Belgique, 1999).
“Archikturstudien zur Theorie des Wohnhauses.” In Leidenschaft, Funktion und Schönheit. Henry van de Veldes Beitrag zur europäischen Moderne, edited by Thomas Föhl and Sabine Walter, 378–417. Weimar: Klassik Stiftung, 2013.
Text by: Katherine M. Kuenzli
And the winner is...
Every year, Flanders DC hosts the Henry van de Velde awards where Belgian products, projects and services are rewarded for their contribution to the design world and are judged on various aspects. A ceremony announcing the winners took place on February 7 2023
Among the potential winners were many different products, projects and services. It ranged from a medical appliance to a bio lamp, from a modular expandable cabana to a mobile application; and many more. All selected products and services were assessed on their quality, innovativeness and how they inspire others.
This year the Lifetime achievement Award was granted by the jury to Paul Boudens. Boudens is a multi-faceted designer with international appeal and influence on the fashion and graphics industry. Known for his iconic style and willingness to challenge the status quo, Boudens has developed a renowned style over the course of three decades.
On the occasion of the Henry van de Velde Awards, there is an exhibition in the Foyers of Bozar in Brussels, Belgium. A display of all winning designs, companies, and projects can be found there. You can visit the exhibition for free until 2 April 2023.
There is no affiliation between the Henry van de Velde awards and the Henry van de Velde foundation. The jury consists of people in the design work field. The awards have been issued since 1995.
Read more about the Henry van de Velde awards here.
2022 Family day in Brussels
Every other year, Henry van de Velde's descendants organize a family day. Over the past years, they have visited HvdV sites in Gent, Weimar and this year they visited Brussels. First, they toured Maison Tervuren, which is the last house where HvdV lived. Then they visited Maison Bloemenwerf, which is in the process of being completely renovated and restored. Even for his descendants, these visits are a great way of getting to know HvdV and his work better.
Watch the after movie of their day here.