‘A mighty bookcase built up high’, is how Henry van de Velde presented the design of what would become the Boekentoren in 1934.
Van de Velde was a professor at the State University of Ghent (‘Rijksuniversiteit Gent’). But he was also an internationally renowned architect and designer. Between 1933 and 1954 he worked on new university architecture at Blandijn. The Boekentoren became a modernist building, constructed of steel, glass and concrete, with a tower depot and magnificent belvedere on the twenty-first floor. It could have been much more, the Boekentoren, but Ghent University Library is still one of Belgium's architectural highlights.
Van de Velde called the building of the Boekentoren ‘one of the toughest assignments [he] had encountered in [his] life’. Due to the ongoing difficulties, the interior was never completed and van de Velde’s design for the adjacent faculty building could not be realised.
This tour introduces you to van de Velde’s library building. The building has been accessible again since September 2021, while the long restoration campaign (2007-2025), carried out by Robbrecht and Daem architects in collaboration with BARO, SumProject and Barbara Van der Wee architects, is coming to an end. You can move freely through the publicly accessible areas to discover the Boekentoren. At the same time, you will find information about the functioning of the library and heritage collections that are kept there.
Finally, make no mistake: the library itself is older than this building. It was founded in 1797 in the aftermath of the French Revolution and used to be housed in the Baudelo Chapel on Ottogracht. The complete history of the library can be found in Towers of Books.