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Civil Engineering at the Exhibition Expo Liege 1939
© Daniel
Architect(s) : Bage Père et fils, Brahy et Martin

Built in the axis of the main entrance and that of Bressoux, the Civil Engineering, Sea and Inland Navigation Palaces were the most prominent buildings at the Exhibition. They had a frontage of 270 metres and more than 5,000 m2 of usable surface area. They should have been, by their proportions and location, the most striking buildings. Unfortunately, this was not the case, but let us add, in all fairness, that the architects cannot be held responsible. They had presented the Architectural Advisory Commission with very well thought-out projects. It was the need to limit expenditure that prompted the authors of the project to simplify its execution. Subsequently, attempts were made to correct the excessive bareness of the facades by applying decorative motifs, but without success. Fortunately, the good architectural ensemble formed by the central tribune and its large staircases, by the flowered terraces and the upper gallery, united the three blocks somewhat. A sculpture by Puvrez, "The Goddess of Water", enhanced the façade facing the entrance to Bressoux.

The interior decoration was worthy of the importance of these palaces. Variously shaped canopies in gold, blue and white hues concealed the "Eternit" corrugated roof. The walls were decorated with high-quality frescoes by the painter Laforêt for the Inland Navigation Palace, by Mr. Van der Borght and Miss Jasinski for the Civil Engineering Palace, and by Gérardy for the Sea Palace, reminding us of the exhibition's purpose. The interior looked great.


In the General Programme, the study of waterways and ports was judiciously divided into five classes. The first class related to Rivers and Canals (cl. 4), the second to Tidal Rivers and Seas (cl. 5) and the other three respectively to Inland Ports (cl. 6), Seaports (cl. 7) and Fishing Ports (cl. 8). The nature of the Exhibition allowed for such specialisation, highlighting technical problems and achievements which, in previous exhibitions, had only been presented in summary form.

The place of honour was naturally given to waterways, given that a vast programme of works was being completed in the country, of which the Albert Canal and the Meuse of Liège were the key elements.

For some years now, our waterways have benefited from the solicitude of the Government. The latter took the initiative of a public works campaign intended to improve the country's economic equipment, especially with regard to means of transport. The waterways, which had been abandoned to an unjust fate for almost half a century, were given a new lease of life. It was realised that they were an important element in the economic expansion of the country.

It is known that in 1830, our network of waterways was already well developed. In the first years of our independence, several important canals were built and old waterways were improved. The most important of these were the Charleroi-Brussels canal, the Meuse-Scheldt junction via the Campine canals and the Liège-Maastricht canal. This relatively happy period for navigation did not last long. The railways, whose network was beginning to cover the whole country with its tight meshes, increasingly took precedence over other means of transport. It was not until the end of the First World War that the fate of our waterways was once again given more attention.

At that time, their situation was critical. Not only were many structures destroyed or out of service as a result of the hostilities, but the entire network, due to its dilapidation and lack of homogeneity, no longer met the requirements of modern traffic.

Various projects were studied, but it was not until the currency crisis was resolved that the first steps were taken. In 1927, the National Commission for Major Works was set up and drew up a final programme of rare scope in which the part reserved for the waterways was preponderant. The most important points were: the development of the Meuse and Sambre rivers to improve navigation conditions and reduce the danger of flooding, the establishment of better water communications between Liège and Antwerp, and the creation of a large section of the Charleroi-Brussels canal between that city and Clabecq.

In 1939, the Albert Canal was completed, as was, at least for the most part, the work on the Liège Meuse. In addition, major works were carried out on the Sambre and the large section of the Charleroi Canal between Clabecq and Brussels was completed. In addition, numerous hydraulic works had been undertaken on other waterways: so that the Liège Exhibition could present a remarkable assessment of the gigantic work intended to provide the country with a completely regenerated network of waterways.

At present, these waterways extend over a length of approximately 1,700 kilometres. The proportion of canals is slightly higher than that of natural waterways, which are almost all canalized. It is the densest network in Europe after the Netherlands. However, this density is very uneven: the majority of our waterways are located in the Scheldt basin and along the coast, while the Meuse basin has only about 375 kilometres. Some regions, such as South Brabant and the area south of the Sambre and Meuse rivers, have no waterways at all. Although it is almost impossible to remedy this shortcoming for orographic reasons, our network has been made much more homogeneous since the World War. When the work underway on the Sambre and the modernisation of the Charleroi-Brussels canal upstream of Clabecq are completed, 600-tonne vessels will be able to penetrate far into the country and complete, for example, a circuit from Antwerp-Brussels-Charleroi-Namur-Liege-Antwerp, to serve our major industrial centres and our main conurbations. The same will apply to the Borinage region once the Scheldt basin is completed. More than 900 kilometres will then be accessible to 600-tonne kasts, which meet the needs of our traffic admirably.

The completion of this work will mark a new stage in the development of our inland navigation: it will allow for rational and economical operation adapted to the current needs of our industry and trade. The inland waterway will then be able to give the full measure of its means and take its rightful place in the whole of our transport system.

In a preliminary article, we explained the particular problem of the Albert Canal: its raison d'être, the importance and particularities of the works, as well as the interest of the improvement works on the Meuse of Liège. Let us now examine how the Exhibition highlighted all this, along with other important works undertaken throughout the country.

1. Classes 4 (Rivers and Canals) and 5 (Tidal Rivers and Seas)
The Belgian participations in these two classes were mostly housed in the Palais du Génie Civil. However, they were so extensive that they spilled over into the two adjacent Palais de la Mer and Palais de la Navigation Intérieure. This arrangement was fortunate: without detracting from the presentation of each subject, it marked their close connection and gave a powerful general impression.

These classes brought together two categories of exhibitors: the interested departments of the Administration des Ponts et Chaussées and the public works, river and maritime companies. It was in a spirit of sincere collaboration that their mutual relations were established and this was to the benefit of the whole which appeared perfectly homogeneous.

On entering the Civil Engineering Building, a large fresco running the length of the high walls, above the side stands, immediately attracted attention. It showed, in a particularly striking manner, the Albert Canal from Liège to Antwerp, the Meuse and the Sambre with the Centre Canal, on the one hand, and Ostend and Zeebrugge, the Maritime Scheldt, the Scheldt and the Bruges Canal, the Mons-Condé-Scheldt Canal and, finally, the Yser on the other. This was a fine synthesis of the programme assigned to the two classes.

The stand of honour was occupied by a large model of the Albert Canal; it was completed by two stands of plans. Nearby, large models and dioramas represented, among others, the locks of Petit-Lanaye and Genk, the welded Vieren-deel bridge in Beringen, the siphon of the Petite Nèthe in Grobben-donk, the Strasbourg basin in Antwerp. This formed the core of the involvement of the two Special Services of the Albert Canal and the Canals in the Provinces of Antwerp, Liege and Limburg.

The Special Service for the Meuse occupied three stands: one for the Monsin dam and lock complex, with a model of this mobile dam; the other for the Ramet-Ivoz lock dam, also with a model of a span of this structure, whose welded gates are made of a special type of steel; and the third for the standardisation and damming of the Meuse downstream from Huy.

The compartment of the Service spécial de la Sambre contained mainly a 1:106 scale model of the barred lock of Au-velais.

One of the stands of the Special Service for the Maritime Scheldt and its Tidal Tributaries contained a model of the double lock under construction at Duffel, which will allow the connection of the Albert Canal to the Rupel via the new Nèthe Canal, with a view to faster navigation between the east and the west of Belgium and towards the capital.

These important contributions from the Ponts et Chaussées departments were supplemented by those of the contractors who carried out the work. These included
- A model of the deep trench at Caster, an impressive and characteristic site of the Albert Canal where, in 1930, King Albert gave the first blow of the shovel (Entreprises réunies),
- A reduction of the Genk locks and one of the dike walls in the Haccourt-Lixhe crossing of the canal (Pieux Franki) ,-
- Models in plan and cross-section of the Eigenbilzen trench where the Albert Canal cuts the dividing ridge of the Meuse and Scheldt basins, a work of particularly delicate design and execution (S. A. d'Entreprises, formerly Dumon and Vander Vin);
- A model of the Kwaadmechelen group of locks showing how they work, and a reduction of the Oolen group of locks, allowing you to see how they were built: two important works of the new waterway (Laboremus);
- A model of the Meuse valley from the Ou-grée bridge (upstream) to the Visé bridge (downstream), another of the Visé bridge on the Meuse and a third of the Marcinelle lock dam on the Sambre (Construction, Study and Operation).

In addition, the collective stand of the Société belge des Bétons and the S. A. Cobétons contained photographic documentation on the Hasselt and Wijnegem locks of the Albert Canal, which Entreprises A. Grégoire and J. Abras and the Société métallurgique d'Enghien-Saint-Eloi had participated in the stand of the Maritime Scheldt Service by presenting the double lock of Duffel, and finally that these stands still contained numerous graphic and photographic documents relating to the works in question. The effort made to inform and document the visitor about the important works recently carried out was evident.

One participation deserved a special mention: that of the Special Engineering Department, relating to steel structures and especially to welded structures. Welded bridges, mostly of the Vierendeel type, are known to be one of the technical features of the Albert Canal. In showcases, the elements of the stand showed how far official control of these constructions has come, particularly by means of X-rays. It is in keeping with the spirit of the Exhibition to note that this service works in collaboration with the University of Liege. It also presented dioramas of various bridges built in picturesque areas on the Meuse and two of its tributaries, the Semois and the Ourthe.

A very important central stand of the Special Vesdre Service showed a large model, surrounded by a beautiful diorama, of the reservoir dam under construction on the Vesdre, upstream of Eupen, a type of gravity dam of about 65 metres in height. In the foreground, a relief map of eastern Belgium showed the important delta of confluences of the Meuse at Liège and the layering of its tributaries and sub-tributaries (the Vesdre, the Ourthe, the Amblève, the Warche, etc.), right up to the borders of Upper Belgium, with their rugged valleys and the locations of the existing or under-construction reservoirs. A striking image of one of the country's main hydrological reserves and of the only region that has so far provided it with hydroelectric power. This map reminded the visitor of the definite relationship, although not easily perceived by the uninformed, between the construction of the new dam on the Vesdre and the works in the Liège region and the Albert Canal.

The Belgian Railway Company, which is building the dam, had a diorama of the work, a cross-section and very interesting samples of the drilling, the sealing injections and the special nature of the concrete used.

The S. Centrales électriques de l'Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse et de la Région de Malmédy" exhibited in a neighbouring stand a model of the Butgenbach dam-reservoir on the Warche (marked on the above-mentioned relief map) and a diorama of the hydroelectric installations of Lorcé-Heid de Goreux, on the Amblève.

Four stands related to the work on the canals and waterways of the provinces of Brabant and Hainaut. The Special Service of the Borinage exhibited numerous documents relating to the canal from Mons to Condé, the Centre canal and the new canal from Nimy to Blaton. For the latter, two large-scale models showed cross-sections of the canal in the concrete sealing section and in the bituminous sealing section of the culvert. Nearby, the Société Coloniale de Construction presented a model of various phases of the construction of this waterway.

The Service spécial des Canaux houillers (Special Service for Coal Canals) had set up an important exhibition concerning the modernisation of the canal from Charleroi to Brussels. Amongst other things, there was a model of the Chanteux system's pre-clearance gate and another of the lock at Molenbeek-Saint-Jean. The department is also involved in improving the flooding conditions of the Senne, in which the Charleroi Canal participates. Numerous graphic documents were presented and attention was drawn to a model and a plan of modern, scientifically inspired works: the model of a hydrodynamically shaped, fully welded tubular segment valve, Willems system, and the plan of the battery of self-damming weir siphons projected in Vilvoorde, based on model tests carried out at the Hydraulic Research Laboratory of the Bridges and Roads Department in Antwerp. A model of a self priming siphon in operation was present at the stand of this laboratory, which will be discussed in more detail later on.

In addition, the company "Ponts, Tunnels et Terrassements" presented a model of the vaulting works of the Woluwe, a tributary of the Senne.

The Special Service for the Scheldt River Basin also showed the importance of the Ghent river junction.

Numerous companies and the Belgian Association of Public Works Contractors, steel construction workshops, consulting engineers and the Belgian Chamber of Consulting Engineers, insurance and inspection bodies for the safety of construction, and various companies, associations and organisations completed the whole of class 4 with plans, photographs and statistics, in such large numbers that it is impossible to list them. Many of these entries were displayed in other pavilions, notably in the Palais des Industries Lourdes, where we found
1° The model of the welded bridge of Ougrée on the Meuse and of a node of the bridge of Haccourt on the Albert Canal (La Soudure "Arcos");
2° A model of the assembly of two main beams and a bridge piece, in natural size, of the said Ougrée bridge (S. A. d'Ougrée-Marihaye);
3° A beautiful model of a "Strauss" type bascule bridge (Les Ateliers métallurgiques de Nivelles).

In Palace No. 18, there was a magnificent model of the reservoir dam under construction on the Vesdre, exhibited by the city of Eupen, and a model of the Vierendeel welded bridge of Vivegnis on the Albert Canal (Ateliers de La Louvière-Bouvy). Finally, in the Palais de la Navigation Intérieure, the Administration des Ponts et Chaussées exhibited interesting models of fish ladders of the Denil system.

The exhibitors in CLASS 5 focused mainly on the Maritime Scheldt and its annexes, as well as the Belgian maritime coast.

The Antwerp Maritime Services rightly occupied a central and largest location in the Civil Engineering Building. A pleasant layout ingeniously drew the visitor to the most scientific stand, which was entirely devoted to the work of the Hydraulic Research Laboratory of the Ponts et Chaussées in Antwerp. Next to the small model of a self priming siphon already mentioned, there was a large model of a tidal river, with a working tidal apparatus designed by the laboratory and realised with the help of Belgian companies. This was a centre of attraction for the visitor, although it was a challenge to make such a complicated installation sufficiently comprehensible to the public. The work on this laboratory has so far been carried out in temporary premises, but a large, definitive hydraulic laboratory, the model of which adorned the stand, is nearing completion in Antwerp.

Close to this scientific stand, another one of lesser size, but of the same character, contained the participation of the Geotechnical Laboratory of the Special Service for the Study of Engineering Structures and installed in the premises of the University of Ghent. Numerous devices and diagrams showed the results of field investigations. This service belongs to both class 4 and class 5. Together with the Hydraulic Research Laboratory and the Steel Construction Control Service, it shows that the Administration has successfully embarked on the road to the organisation of scientific services.

The Special Service for the Maritime Scheldt and its Tidal Tributaries devoted two beautiful stands to the complex of new road and railway bridges over the Maritime Scheldt and the Dender at the Dendermonde confluence. One model showed the plan of the complex, two others showed the new bridges over the Scheldt with a movable Scherzer span, and over the Dender with a movable lift span. Several firms had contributed to the construction of these stands, including Entreprises Mallems et Cornélis, Wegen-bouw, J. Mylle, Ateliers du Thiriau, Ateliers métallurgiques, the firm Rouvroy et Fils, etc.

A special stand of the Office central d'Electricité et d'Electro-mécanique showed the operation of various types of movable bridges, including the two Dendermonde bridges mentioned above and the one on the Rupel at Boom.

The stand of the contractor Maurice Delens showed an interesting model of the construction of a double pier of this new bridge over the Rupel, while the Roads Department of the Province of Antwerp, in collaboration with various firms, exhibited an impressive model of this bridge.

In some cases, tunnels are preferred to bridges on large maritime rivers because of the disadvantages of the latter for navigation. The S. A. Pieux Franki exhibited several detailed models of the tunnels under the Scheldt in Antwerp, which it had successfully built, while S. A. A. Foraky presented a model of the application of the soil freezing process to the excavation of ventilation shafts in water-bearing soils.

The Special Coastal Service had two stands displaying plans and photos of various maritime structures, especially the coastal defence groins, the inner harbour structures in Nieu-port, the fishing harbour lock and a quay wall in Ostend, as well as the fishing harbour in Zeebrugge. The stand of the firm Van Huele complemented the previous ones with regard to coastal defence works. Citravo showed an interesting cross-section of the quay wall in Ostend and Entreprises Decloedt et Fils showed a model of the port of Zeebrugge.

In the Palais de la Mer, the Special Coastal Service also exhibited a suggestive model of the complex of structures in the inner harbour of Nieuwpoort, which played a decisive role during the floods on the Yser in 1914. Finally, the Maritime Services of the Scheldt presented models and photographs of buoys and lanterns used to mark the river.

Various companies were keen to present maritime works carried out in the Belgian Congo (Société d'Entreprises de Travaux en Béton au Katanga) and abroad: Port of Valencia, Spain (Société belge des Bétons)/ Port Alfred (South Africa), Tamatave (Madagascar), French Equatorial Africa (Société d'Entreprises de Travaux en Béton au Katanga), as well as the Compagnie belge de Chemins de fer et d'Entreprises, the S. A. Ackermans et Van Haaren, etc.

The objects on these stands were of such a nature, of such importance and so numerous that they would have deserved to be recounted in a voluminous collection of monographs, following the example of what was done in the past concerning the machinery and locomotive galleries of the Universal Exhibitions.

Although this description necessarily contains many omissions, it will nonetheless be edifying on the scale of the hydraulic and maritime public works carried out in Belgium over the last ten years and on the country's power of achievement in this field.

Considered as a whole, these works show, compared to those of previous periods, a much more considerable scale and a very marked spirit of modernism, although in general wisely weighted and devoid of excess. The trend towards the rational application of the results of scientific research is manifested in the recent creation of departments and laboratories, the participation of which showed a rapidly developing state. It is to be hoped that, in the fields already discussed and in others, the Administration des Ponts et Chaussées and the Sociétés d'entreprises will continue along this fruitful path.

We can also note with great satisfaction the strength, established both in Belgium and abroad, of the means of execution and the experience of Belgian public works contractors, enabling them to successfully and rapidly carry out the most difficult works due to their random nature and their importance.
The participation in classes 4 and 5 was not only a remarkable success that did the exhibitors great credit, but also constituted a guarantee of success for the future of the country's economic equipment and the prospects of its public works industry.

The great national work of the Albert Canal will not only have sustained the prosperity of Belgium during a period of economic difficulties and achieved its direct aims of strengthening the national framework, but it will also have marked the beginning of a true renovation of public works in the country.

The Liege Exhibition can claim credit for having brought out the results in an impressive display.

2. Classes 6 (Inland ports), 7 (Seaports) and 8 (Fishing ports)
The Belgian participations in these three classes, in conjunction with those in the two previous classes, were also located in the Civil Engineering, Maritime and Inland Navigation Palaces. The advantage of this grouping has already been mentioned. However, here too some important exhibitors were installed in other halls, notably No. 18 and the Heavy Industry Hall. Finally, the three major maritime cities: Antwerp, Ghent and Ostend exhibited in their respective pavilions.

INLAND PORTS were represented by the major Belgian public ports: Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Liege and Merksem. Many private ports recently built or improved due to the execution of the Albert Canal, the works on the Meuse and the Campine canals, exhibited very suggestive models and dioramas. The new coal ports of Zolder, Genk and Beringen on the Albert Canal, Cheratte on the Meuse, Eisden on the Zuid-Willemsvaart and the metallurgical installations of Balen-Wezel and Hoboken on the old Meuse-Scheldt junction canal were all on display.

The equipment is generally adequate: the last few years have seen considerable progress, thanks to a wise policy of encouragement by the Administration. Perhaps it would have been interesting to give a more synthetic picture of this initiative by characterising the current general situation of the main inland ports.
On the whole, privately owned inland ports dominate in Belgium. Their equipment is often superior to that of the public ports. Among the latter, the inland ports, especially Antwerp and Ghent, are particularly noteworthy. The two major inland ports, Brussels and Liege, follow.

The Belgian MARITIME PORTS are few in number, but important. The official participation of Antwerp, in its large pavilion, was remarkable in every respect. The model of the port, on a fairly large scale and set down below, was an object of great interest.

Beautiful models of the Royers and Kruisschans locks, dry docks, potash sheds, and handling cranes completed the ensemble, to which were added private entries concerning handling equipment (Stocatra).

Ghent also presented a beautiful model showing the extent and equipment of its maritime installations. In its pavilion, there was also a model of the Port Arthur quay with the three-storey, fully fire-proof textile shed and a model of a 3-ton crane. This gave an exact idea of the handling possibilities of these very modern installations. Extensive graphic documentation helped to highlight the advantages of the port.

Finally, Ostend also drew the public's attention to its maritime installations in its own pavilion, while the Maritime Administration exhibited a magnificent model of this port in the Palais de la Mer. In addition, the Administration des Ponts et Chaussées presented two beautiful models of Zeebrugge and Nieuport. Naturally, the Bruges and Brussels Canals and Maritime Installations Societies also participated in this section.

As far as the FISHING PORTS are concerned, Ostend, Zeebrugge and Nieuwpoort were included.

The model of Ostend mentioned above highlighted the extent of the fishing port's facilities and the importance of the rail network serving it.

It is well known that this port, recently built and considered to be one of the most modern in Europe, is equipped in such a way that all operations can be carried out with maximum speed, economy and cleanliness. It is equipped with a large wet dock, a tidal dock (for small boats) and two mobile yards for cleaning, painting and repairing boats in a minimum of time. In less than five years, a veritable industrial city has sprung up near these docks, and fishing families are settling there in large numbers.

The port of Zeebrugge has also been expanded and modernised in recent years, as shown in the model mentioned above.

Finally, for the three classes, various firms exhibited, especially in the Palais des Industries Lourdes, handling equipment and devices related to the operation of ports and the fishing industry.

The overall impression of these classes indicated the high degree of development and advancement of port activity in Belgium, both inland and maritime, and it is to be hoped that the country will support this effort to extend and perfect this valuable economic tool.

- Hydraulic and hydro-electric power stations (cl. 12)

If, in our country, which is poor in white coal, it were possible to envisage, through gigantic works, a rational use of the watercourses of Upper Belgium, the undertaking would hardly be justifiable, at least on a large scale, in the present state of our coal resources.

At present, only one remarkable achievement of this kind has been made by the Centrales Electriques de l'Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse and the Malmédy Region. By building a high dam at Robertville on the Warche, a tributary of the Amblève, and another high dam upstream at Butgenbach, this company has been able to build a fairly large complex comprising three 5,000 HP units with a high head (150 m) and one 3,000 HP unit with a low head (25 m). On the other hand, two medium-head (45 m.) 5,000 HP units were installed at Heid-de-Goreux, on the Amblève, partially regulated by the action of the upstream dams.

At the Palais du Génie Civil, the company showed the benefits it has been able to draw from this hydro-electric complex operating in parallel with thermal units, with the high head station at Malmédy acting as a peak unit. This achievement, unique in Belgium, is a credit to the entrepreneurial spirit of our electricity producers.

For its part, at the Palais des Industries Lourdes, the Union des Exploitations électriques en Belgique highlighted the extent of the effort made to ensure, by interconnecting the networks, better use of the units installed and a reduction in the cost price through the rational use of blast furnace gases in the production of electrical energy.

Here again, Belgium did not let itself be outdone by the other major industrial countries, and the items on the stands of the various firms that contributed to the development of these installations were remarkable in every respect.

In this class 12, several manufacturers of electrical equipment presented armoured equipment used more particularly for hydroelectric power stations.

Finally, two large firms showed the possibilities of their production from the point of view of the construction of penstocks (Société d'Ougrée-Marihaye), and the other its achievements in the execution of hydroelectric power stations abroad and more particularly in the Belgian Congo (Société d'Entreprises de Travaux au Katanga).

The impression produced was encouraging because the few Belgian participations in class 12 nevertheless highlighted the spirit of initiative of our industrialists and entrepreneurs in a field which, because of the essence of our country's natural resources, did not seem to us to be particularly reserved.

© General Report - International Water Technology Exhibition - Liège 1939