Constructing the Boekentoren
During the interwar period, a new library building appeared on the top of Blandijnberg; a building that would outshine all other aspects of library life.
While war raged, the library moved from Ottogracht to Blandijn, from a dilapidated abbey complex to an as yet unfinished glass and concrete tower. The history, design and construction of the Boekentoren would drag on for more than twenty years; its architect Henry van de Velde described the whole undertaking as ‘absolute agony’ and one that brought his firm ‘to the brink of ruin'. The relocation was only completed in 1960.
On 15 October 1942 the Boekentoren opened its doors for the very first time. The still unfinished university library would become the 'panorama of Ghent' and the fourth tower of the city. The Boekentoren has been a protected monument since 1 July 1992. Its modernist architecture and evocative belvedere, which crowns the tower, have lent the building an iconic status over the past decades.
Who was Henry van de Velde?
Henry van de Velde was born in Antwerp in 1863. He was a painter, designer and architect who enchanted the international art scene with his work from the 1890s onwards. In 1926, he was appointed lecturer at the Rijksuniverseit Gent and in 1933 he was commissioned to build the university library. In 1947, van de Velde retired to Switzerland. He died in Zurich in 1957.
The Boekentoren restored to its former glory
The restoration project that started in 2007 will run until 2025. The architects and restorers working on this are:
- Robbrecht and Daem architects
- Barbara Van der Wee architects
Antwerp property developer André Singer bought Henry van de Velde's Boekentoren archive in 2002. His indignation about the state of the building at the time, and the knowledge, resources and energy he poured into the project played a crucial role in its success.
Towers of Books
Ghent University Library 1797-2020
Ruben Mantels has captured the history of the Boekentoren in a beautifully designed book about Ghent University Library and Henry van de Velde's extraordinary tower.
Towers of Books is published by Hannibal Books in collaboration with Sylvia Van Peteghem, the first female head librarian of Ghent University Library.