Brussels has a reputation for poor urban decision-making. The destruction of Horta’s Maison du Peuple or Ixelles’s Halles for example, still cause locals to facepalm in anguish. But sometimes the planners get it right.
The Anderlecht Abattoir was built in 1888 to replace its festering predecessor. The new site would be better connected to the canal and rail infrastructure. A branch of the Senne was redirected, the swampy terrain was drained and four-metre vaulted foundations were dug. The vaults become an ice-cellar and mushroom farm (and these days are available for venue-hire). Above sprouted a hundred cast iron columns supporting the vast metal roof of the 400sq metre markethall, designed by Emile Tirou.
At the gate, visitors are greeted by two cast bronze bulls, copies of those at the Vaugirard Abattoir in Paris (now the Parc Georges Brassins). Inside, in the shade of the roof, daylight is carved into horizontal bands and ornate arches.
This is not only an impressive part of agro-food history, but an exciting part of the city’s future. A hundred years after its construction, the site was sold to a cooperative and listed as a classified monument in 1988. It has gone from strength to strength. 200,000 animals a year are still slaughtered here and there are multiple thriving ‘mets’ (‘met’ is the old Brussels dialect for market) including a Sunday flea market, Brocantemet. Complementing its older mistress, a new Foodmet was recently added, housed in a pre-cast concrete pavilion which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2016, with cutaway panels resembling a child’s shape sorting game.
And throughout the summer, from 6pm on a Thursday night, Abattoir becomes the venue for one of Brussels’s most surprising afterwork parties. The Boeremet. Lined with foodstalls serving pizza, thai noodles, dim sum, burgers, nibbles and shots, chips (of course) and plenty more, the marketplace is taken over by a massive sound system pumping out popular club floorfillers. By 8pm, enthusiastic semi-clad punters are dancing on the tables.
You’ve been warned!