International Water Technology Exhibition in Liege 1939

May 20, 1939 - September 2, 1939

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Work at the Exhibition Expo Liege 1939

Architect(s) : J. Plumier

It was to be erected beyond the King Albert Memorial and to serve as a screen for the port facilities. As soon as the building was completed, circumstances led to a change in the programme. The main building was removed and a site was sought for the remaining 50-metre high belfry. It was eventually built right up against the Palace of Universities, which it crushed with its imposing mass. The architect did his utmost to place the indispensable premises on this narrow site, which were to house the participation of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

By means of a system of well thought-out terraces and staircases, he managed to weld his palace to the main road. The architecture was bold and powerful. The large glass roof, built in tiers, on the side wings, imposed itself on the eyes. It was set with an elegant cordon. It seemed to us, however, that the corners of the tower could have been lowered in a solid mass to ground level.

The main entrance, inscribed in the glass roof, with its wrought iron door, was beautifully composed. A sculptural group preceded it. It was made by G. Petit and represented a worker and an intellectual fraternally united in work. We should also mention a work by the painter Scauflaire decorating the rotunda of honour.


It could be argued that the subject matter of this class was not directly related to the fundamental theme. The same could be said of the next class dealing with the organisation of companies. However, it should be considered that all international exhibitions, whether general or special, are part of the same cycle. They all constitute a stage, a step on the road of human progress towards the realisation of a better life. And while it is essential that special exhibitions should include only human activities related to the subject of their speciality, it seems indispensable that they should present these activities in all their aspects. The Exhibition itself was open to all products of human labour, in whatever form, provided they had a relationship with the liquid element. In spite of this restriction, it practically called for the participation of most branches of industry and commerce.
industrial and commercial branches. This event would not have been complete without a place for work, its organisation and protection, and, in another connection, for the documentation of economic and social problems as they arise in modern enterprises. This was the purpose of classes 25 and 26 of the General Classification.

The Belgian participation in class 25 included a number of special exhibitions, which we shall mention first. These were mainly items of general documentation. This was the case for the Belgian General Press Association, which had built a small individual pavilion, the Foreign Trade Office (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), which had set up an information office in the Palais des Industries Lourdes, and the newspaper "Le Soir", which had built a small advertising pavilion. Similarly, the Belgium-Canada Association had set up a rustic chalet for propaganda purposes. In addition, some social organisations had set up a joint stand in one of the large palaces (no. 21).

However, the participation of class 25 was most evident in the National Labour Belfry, which it shared with class 26 (business organisation), which we will discuss later (see section C of this chapter).

As Minister Delfosse said on the day of the inauguration, "in our Flemish and Walloon towns, the belfries bear witness to the fact that for centuries our ancestors have found in work the only weapon capable of ensuring their independence, and in freedom the only means of increasing the well-being of all. "

As a symbol of work and freedom, the belfry of the Exhibition majestically raised its high tower on the left bank of the river. It housed stands whose general theme was the intimate union of all factors of production with a view to improving and increasing production for the benefit of all.

The Palace opened onto a main hall where Ton evoked Belgium at work in a vast decorative composition signed by one of our best painters. Two monumental tables entitled "Belgium, Land of Work and Social Progress" listed the long series of social laws that the country is proud of.

With regard to class 25 in particular, the elements on display were as follows.

The first section related to vocational guidance and training. It showed important work done in our vocational schools. Haute couture, fashion, glassmaking, ceramics, bookbinding, goldsmithing, the T.S.F. industry and others were represented. It should be noted that a stand was devoted to educational documentation, that a planning office evoked mass production and that machines of all kinds completed the ensemble.

A large part of the exhibition was devoted to the elements of labour protection: a summary of the methods used was presented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, in collaboration with industrialists.

The next section, devoted to the study of compensation for injuries resulting from occupational accidents, included four stands in which were dealt with respectively: first aid, surgical treatment, physical medicine and the national prosthesis service. Many specialists and qualified manufacturers were called upon to produce the appropriate equipment.

The problem of family allowances was then considered at a special stand, where a brochure outlining the situation in Belgium was distributed to the public.

Similarly, another stand contained abundant documentation on mutual societies with the collaboration of all the major Belgian groups concerned.

A special section was devoted to low-cost housing with numerous statistics relating to government intervention in the construction of workers' housing.

Finally, questions relating to old-age and widows' pensions, placement and unemployment services, documentation, works and the press were developed in a very suggestive manner in three separate stands.

This ensemble, which constituted the main part of the Belgian participation in class 25, was completed by a few contributions worthy of mention. Thus, a stand was devoted to the place occupied by the diamond industry in the Belgian economy and there was a significant contribution from the social works of the City of Liege.

It is regrettable that this participation, which was abundantly documented and in which each section represented a very commendable effort of collaboration between the official services and numerous industrialists, lacked unity. The only attempt at synthesis was limited to a general reminder of our main social laws, on the panels of the Salon d'Honneur. There was too much concern for completeness and it was difficult for the visitor to draw a general lesson. Of course, there was a great deal of interest in highlighting everything that had been done in Belgium from a social point of view. The visitor, both Belgian and foreign, should have had his attention drawn to the progress we have made in this field. It would have been of even greater interest to establish the connection between these various social activities, either with each other or with the Belgian economy as a whole, and to show how they are integrated into it in order to increase its efficiency and prosperity. It would have been interesting to demonstrate that all social initiatives, whether public or private, however meritorious each one may be in itself, must be directly related to the productivity of the country and to the standard of living of its inhabitants.


This class, whose entire participation was grouped in the National Labour Belfry, which it shared with class 25, had achieved a scientific and educational event far exceeding in importance and quality the role usually assigned to a temporary presentation.
Thanks to the spirit of scientific cooperation that animated its promoters and leaders, financial support and technical contributions were entirely disinterested.

It was especially concerned with bringing out the following principle: ORGANISATION, A FACTOR OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS.

The organisation of the modern company was summarised in a large lighted board in the centre of the back wall. A screen showing a human brain represented the management. On the right were the planning and staff departments (legal department, research and methods, secretariat, personnel); on the left were the three divisional departments and their executive departments: technical department (purchasing, production, assembly), commercial department (advertising, sales, delivery), financial department (accounting, credits, budgets, cost prices). A beautiful animated light installation showed the links between the various departments and displayed a succession of texts and drawings relating to the problems that involve the various activities of the company.

In the hall, the stands were set up in the same way. Thus, on the left, as you enter, you will find the executive departments, i.e. production and distribution on the one hand, and administration on the other.

Production and distribution are services that logically have no continuity between them. That is why they were combined in one stand. From the purchase of the raw materials necessary for production to the delivery of the finished product to the consumer, a whole cycle of operations takes place, from payment to collection. The speed at which this cycle is completed has a major influence on the company's situation. For this speed to be optimal, everything at every stage of the cycle must be so carefully organised that maximum output is achieved with minimum effort and that no traffic jams occur.

Two traffic lights symbolised this idea. Of course, only one case had to be cited for each stage as an example.

The administration stand was the central location for all office documentation. The central panel was occupied by a large table showing the flow of documents relating to an order through all the departments concerned in the company. Around this large diagram and on the side panels, points of administrative organisation of each of these departments were illustrated.

To the right of the room were three stands of the study departments, devoted respectively to Man, Matter and Method.

The one devoted to Man brought together everything concerning the human factor and included three sections: the study of time and movement, psychotechnics and the moral factors of performance.

Some examples of research undertaken with a view to improving performance and eliminating the causes of fatigue were illustrated, in particular by means of work observation films showing mainly the breakdown of movements. The selection of workers was evoked by photographs reproducing a series of tests (movement coordination test, muscular precision and reaction test, dexterity test, attention test, etc.). Finally, the human character of work was highlighted and a panel showed some interesting achievements in the field of improving the moral and physical well-being of the worker.

Material is the subject of much research, whether it be with a view to improving the yield of raw materials, their use, their recovery, etc. This idea was symbolised on a panel in the exhibition. This idea was symbolised on a panel showing a physics laboratory and a chemistry laboratory. The words of King Albert in his speech in Seraing establishing the National Fund for Scientific Research were highlighted: "It is in the research laboratories that the rudiments of tomorrow's industry are developed. "The example of the research carried out by the laboratories of a large electricity company in a wide range of fields is an example of this.

Technical research is also carried out on small tools and machines. The results of important work in this field, in particular that of Professor Schlesinger, were displayed on the side panels, as well as examples of standards resulting from scientific research extracted from the instruction manuals of a large Belgian firm.

Finally, from the point of view of the Method, an organisation centre, its structure, its ramifications, its work, were illustrated on a central panel. One of the side panels dealt with major general campaigns (fight against waste, respect for delivery deadlines), the other with major documentation bodies (Belgian National Committee for Scientific Organisation, Belgian Association for Standardisation, etc.).

In the centre of the organisation class, the mechanography section complemented all the others: it dealt with all the equipment which, although not the basis of the organisation, is nevertheless its most precious auxiliary. No machines were exhibited, but dioramas were devoted to the main groups of machines according to their type of use, and tables showed application diagrams.

Refraining from all the advertising which would have been normal at an exhibition, and opening its doors wide to the voluntary helpers who had offered themselves, Class 26 had been anxious to show visitors the methods used in industrial and commercial enterprises as well as in public and private institutions, to ensure their operation with the maximum order, economy and efficiency. The aim was to promote the idea of progress through organisation and to make known the means of achieving this progress, rather than to point out exceptional results or spectacular achievements observed in certain establishments.

On entering the room, the visitor was immediately struck by two large decorative compositions adorning the upper walls and evoking the features of Descartes, the precursor, F. W. Taylor and H. Fayol, the great authors of scientific organisation, and recalling the principles they enunciated.

From Descartes (Discourse of the Method), we read "Admit only the facts, divide the difficulties, go from the simple to the compound, omit nothing. "

From F. W. Taylor (Principles of Scientific Organisation): "Substitute science for empirical work, select, train and instruct the worker, achieve the intimate collaboration of the worker and the management, separate preparation from execution. "

Finally, from H. Fayol (Administrative Doctrine): "To administer is to foresee, organise, command, coordinate and control. "The evocation of these great masters was striking and marked the character of participation. Its directors had wanted to do a useful, educational work. They fully succeeded.

© General Report - International Water Technology Exhibition - Liège 1939