Building

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.

Boekentoren, ca. 1950

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.

Read the story of the Boekentoren in Towers of Books or go on a virtual tour via the tour website.

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.


Read more about Henry van de Velde

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
  • BARO
  • SumProject
  • 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.

Following restoration, the library services including the Study Area and Reading Room will be available from the summer of 2021. The east wing comprising office spaces will be completed in 2025.

License CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0

License CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0

License CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0

License CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0

Can I visit the Boekentoren?

Yes and no. The library spaces are accessible during opening hours. Some rooms, including the Belvedere, can only be visited on specific occasions or by appointment accompanied by a guide. Take a virtual tour via the tour website.

Visit the Boekentoren

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.


Want to know more about tours or renting spaces in the Boekentoren? The secretary's office is open every weekday from 9 am to 5 pm.