By the end of the nineteenth century, setting up photographic archives of the artistic and architectural heritage had become a common way for documenting, preserving and distributing the national and historical patrimony. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Comité d'Etudes du Vieux Bruxelles started, stimulated by his president Charles Buls, a photographic inventory of the historical heritage in Brussels. This collection contains more than 1.500 photographs and includes a sampling of architectural styles in Brussels between 1500 and 1800. What was photographed and how the pictures were taken, demonstrate aspects of the historical culture of that time. They make clear which past Charles Buls and the members of the committee wanted to preserve for the future. Behind the collection's documentary and educative purposes lies also a political agenda: the pictures had to stimulate the construction of a national style for the arts and architecture, and - more general - to strengthen the national identity. In this contribution I will focus on the motives and aims of the Comité d'Etudes du Vieux Bruxelles for preserving the urban heritage as a photographic inventory.