Never say Never. About the Restoration of Henry van de Velde’s Booktower

Sylvia van Peteghem


The role of the central library within the university of Ghent (27.000 students) is fourfold: it is the centre of the library’s network and its reorganisation, trying to get the current number (> 300) of libraries down. It is the digital library in all its aspects, it is the repository library for cultural heritage and “passive” collections and it offers a working place in its wonderful book tower of Henry van de Velde.

The story of the book tower starts in the 1930s when Henry van de Velde was asked to build a University Library and offices for the department of Art history. His tower-idea was not exactly what the chief librarian had in mind, so he had to (net)work hard to get the building he wanted. It was finished on the verge of the second world war. The concrete building has a height of 64 meter, has 24 floors and a “belvedere” and houses almost 3 million books in closed racks.

The university did not neglect the tower during all these years, but was not always aware of the historical value and often choose the cheapest way for building matters. A couple of years ago a private person bought the Van de Velde archive of the book tower (which was in private hands), got fascinated with the building, got angry because of lack of care and networked (maybe as hard as Van de Velde once did to get it built) to get it restored. The board of directors of the university said yes to the restoration (estimated on 41 million Euro) in September 2005.

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