Bernar Venet's L'Arc Majeur, 2019

Bernar Venet
L'Arc Majeur, 2019



The E411 motorway between the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg (Belgium), at kilometre marker 99. On the top of a hill, the Arc Majeur raises its majestic lines. The monumental steel sculpture is the work of artist Bernar Venet, arching over the carriageways from one side to the other. Travellers pass by its 205.5°, metal curve, which seems to hold up the sky. It moulds itself to the landscape, as though its curves continue beneath the earth. The Arc Majeur is at once a work of art and a technical feat. It is a unique human collaboration, synergy between the highest demonstrations of expertise to showcase Walloon know-how.

The Arc Majeur was designed by the French artist Bernar Venet in 1984, and is a project of the John Cockerill Foundation. A monumental sculpture in COR-TEN™ steel (a self-patinated steel subjected to forced surface corrosion, which gives it its rust colour and prevents all subsequent corrosion), made at the John Cockerill Group’s Centre for Welding Expertise in collaboration with the Greisch engineering consultancy, and given to Wallonia Region to become part of its artistic heritage.

60 m high, spanning 75 m, 2.25 m in side section, 200 tonnes of steel, over 6 500 hours of welding and assembly work, 15 partners, and more – the Arc Majeur brings together figures and expertise! It is at once a unique work of art – the world’s largest metal sculpture – and a technical feat. The result of teamwork that brings together the best craftspeople in their respective trades. Intense collaboration between numerous technical and financial partners.

The apotheosis of a project

Since Bernar Venet's first sketch, it has taken 35 years for the Major Arch to become a reality. The creation of this monumental steel arch was imagined by the artist in 1984, at the request of Jack Lang, then French Minister of Culture. First studied for the Autoroute du Soleil, then a second time for Eastern France, the project was abandoned. The Major Arch remains in the drawers and memories.

In 2014, Bernar Venet is in Seraing for the inauguration of two of his new works, installed alongside the new building of the John Cockerill Group. The Group’s chairman, Bernard Serin, knows of the Arc Majeur. One of the Group’s subsidiaries, Usinor, had in fact carried out studies for the project at the time in France. Moreover, the workshops of the John Cockerill Centre for Welding Expertise (CWE) had produced a work for the artist a few years earlier: 37,5° Arc, a 38-m steel arc installed in Seoul.

On that day in 2014, the artist and the entrepreneur meet political representatives from the Wallonia Region. The decision was taken: the Arc Majeur would see light of day in Belgium. Bernar Venet would design the project and choose the site. The CWE’s workshops would make the Arc, and the firm would offer it to Wallonia Region.

A work of art and a technical feat

Beyond being a work of art, the Arc Majeur is a technical feat. The large arch (60 m) is made up of three caissons measuring 20 m in length and 2.25 m in side section; the small arc (20 m) is made up of a single caisson measuring 20 m in length and 2.25 metres in side section. To make that steel sculpture with particular dimensions and geometry, the CWE used semi-automated welding carriages. At each stage, the work is checked by specialists from the Vinçotte Group, using an advanced non-destructive testing technique called Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing.

L'Arc Majeur, symbol of Walloon know-how

The design and installation of the Arc Majeur necessitated extraordinary collaboration that brought together several experienced technical service providers: from cutting out the sheets to the finally assembly of the work on site, taking in bending, welding, assembly in the workshop, welding checks, accessories (lifting lugs to handle the work, a shock absorber at the summit of the large arc, etc.), the foundations for anchoring into the ground, sanding, and, of course, transport.

Several sponsor organisations and institutional partners also joined the John Cockerill Foundation to turn the Arc Majeur into reality. It is part of the region’s industrial heritage; in addition, it symbolises Walloon know-how and showcases it on the international stage.…

The E411 motorway between the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg (Belgium), at kilometre marker 99. On the top of a hill, the Arc Majeur… more

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