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A “Palace of Scaffolding”: How One Architect Hopes to Restore the Structure Before 2030

By: Ray Zhao

The Palace of Justice of Brussels is a majestic building in the heart of Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Built-in the 1800s, the palace is Belgium's most important court.

The 26,000-square-foot building is stately, but political dysfunction and years of inattention have led it to become damaged so badly that it is no longer the home of many jurisdictions. Although the repairs have dragged on so long that the now-iconic scaffolding itself is in need of repair, there may be an end in sight.

That hope comes in the form of André Demesmaeker, an architect for the Belgian government. After he was tapped to oversee the restoration of the colossal stone façade, Demesmaeker immediately set off to help restore the so-called “Palace of Scaffolding,” which commands cultural, historical, and geographic significance.

Despite the poor condition of the palace and the long years of neglect, it seems that there is a glimmer of hope for the iconic structure, which was once the largest building in the world. Belgian officials have begun to discuss renovations of the interior, and the scaffolding will come down very soon. Demesmaeker hopes that the renovations will be finished by 2030, in time for the Belgian bicentennial.

However, it is far from certain that the renovations will be completed. With jumbled political parties, parliaments, and even a separatist movement, Belgium's government is far from stable. In fact, there hasn’t even been a working national government for over two years. And due to the palace’s central location, only one facade can be renovated at a time, leaving an eight-year timeline to finish the renovations. The repairs could easily end due to hostility from a new government or a lack of funding in that time.

While 2030 is getting closer, the building’s problems are growing. Given its collection of collapsed roofs, the animal and plant ecosystems growing inside the palace, and all sorts of dirty materials that need to be removed, many doubt Mr. Demesmaeker’s ability to finish the job. When questioned about this by the New York Times, his response was simple: “I just hope to finish before retirement.”

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