Joseph Poelaert

Belgium Congress Column Brussels
Joseph Poelaert
Joseph POELAERT architecte.jpg
Born21 March 1817
Died3 November 1879(1879-11-03) (aged 62)
BuildingsLaw Courts of Brussels

Congress Column

Church of Our Lady of Laeken

Joseph Poelaert (21 March 1817 – 3 November 1879) was a Belgian architect.


Born in Brussels to Philip Poelaert (1790–1875), a former architecture student at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Poelaert also trained there under Tilman-François Suys, and then in Paris under Louis Visconti and Jean-Nicolas Huyot.

Poelaert first came to attention with his winning competition entry for the Congress Column in 1849. He was made city architect of Brussels in 1856.

Poelaert's most significant commission was the colossal Law Courts of Brussels, the largest single building constructed in the 19th Century and even copied in smaller scale at the Palace of Justice in Peru.

During construction the inhabitants of the Marollen quarter, the working-class neighbourhood site of the Law Courts, gave Poelaert the nickname “Skieven Architect” (roughly, ‘the crooked architect’) because the long period of construction drove many inhabitants out of their houses, with the help of the local police. The nickname refers also to "chief architect" because many of the workers of the Law Courts were English. The local inhabitants corrupted "chief architect" to "skieven architect", with a totally different meaning in the Brussels dialect.[citation needed]

Poelaert himself was residing in the heart of the Marolles rue des Minimes in a house adjoining his vast offices and workshops and communicating with them.[1]

Poelaert Place, the largest square in Brussels, lies in front of the courts building.

He is buried in Laeken Cemetery under a miniature version of his own Palais de Justice. Poelaert was the great-uncle of Belgian architect Henri Van Dievoet.




  1. ^ Poelaert et son temps, Bruxelles, (catalogue exposition), 1980, p. 166: "Il habitait une maison rue des Minimes, voisine de ses bureaux et qui communiquait avec ceux-ci"