Library of Schoten
Schoten, Sint-Cordulaplein 13
1971 – 1974
Already in 1934 there was a library in Schoten. In the 1960s it was located in Gelmelenhof, but that was much too small. Mayor Marcel Imler decided for a new building in 1968. The building place was above an air-raid shelter, next to the fire station. In 1971 the design was by architect Renaat Braem, he had to collaborate with architect Piet Janssens, living in Schoten.
The designer of the library was Renaat Braem (1910 – 2001). During his studies, he received the Rubens Prize, a travel and study grant that gave young architects the opportunity to complete their education in Paris. Braem went to France, but did not register with the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but did go to the office of Le Corbusier. He learned a lot and eventually became the only Belgian who worked at Le Corbusier. After WWII Braem worked on various social housing blocks. He also experimented with single-family homes. His designs became more and more organic in form, with this library at the top of his organic period. As a tribute, in 2010 the name of the library was changed to Braembiblioteek, the most beautiful library in the country.
Braem has made fantastic designs and my favorite is this library. I already went here when I was 12 years old, when I was already a book lover (it hasn’t improved …). When we had to make a final project for the Noordertuin guide course, my choice was this building. Afterwards I was allowed to guide here during Open Monumentendag 2012. There were then great prospects: the library was going to be restored with respect for the past (the points of attention of Braem) and the future (digitally borrowing). Unfortunately, several things went wrong and now, in 2017, we are almost at the end of the restoration. The solemn opening will take place in November and then we will be able to enjoy Braem’s design again. The doors will be opened this weekend while it is still empty, a beautiful view. And I can guide again … Maybe see you somewhere in or around the building?
Renaat Braem did not want a library like
a barren and sad warehouse, with pale servants and an audience that only came because there was no other way.
Braem worked with an open plan and with a lot of daylight. Materials are brick, concrete and glass. In the reading room there are twisted pillars that represent a DNA sculpture. The four elements are also reflected in the building: earth (color of the floor), fire (fireplace), water (fountain under the stairs) and air (domes). The earth-colored tiles were not executed, with the renovation they opted for an earth-colored floor covering. The fire returns in a fake fire and also the fountain comes back (this has been there for a while, but a water feature and books was not a good idea, now it is a bubbling fountain). The domes are all made again with the original molds. Also one of the only things that Braem did not design himself, is coming back: the orbs of Noguchi.
According to Braem there was also no need for art, because the building was already a work of art. Nevertheless, a stairwell has been sacrificed for a lift. That place is an exception, according to Braem. The municipality of Schoten opened a competition for a design in the elevator shaft. The winning design is entitled “Libary Deconstructed 0.1” by the Ghent architect Wouter Verbrugghe. It consists of rows of rectangles that resemble book backs. 41 literary works are also incorporated.
The restoration, which took a little longer than planned, was under the control of DMT architects. A color study was done and the columns, handrails, window frames and hall regain their original color. The doors to the toilets have been renewed and the logos that Braem had chosen have been recreated.
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