The Library of Utrecht
The new Central Library of Utrecht is now housed in one of the most iconic buildings of the city: the former post office at Neude square. The original character of the post office is still there. However, there have been structural and interior modifications to make the library a more accessible and inspiring place for the citizens of Utrecht. A place where they can meet up, relax, read, learn and discover. ZECC Architects produced the interior design and Gispen supplied the furniture and offered advice on the office environment.
An entirely public building
At the new library, there is so much more to do than just borrow books. Visitors can also attend cultural events, lectures, debates and workshops here. The library organises all kinds of events together with cultural, social and educational institutions from the city of Utrecht. The new Central Library has a surface area of no less than 9,100 m2, with the main hall as a true eyecatcher on the ground floor, and three additional floors above it. When it was still a post office, the only area that was open to the public was the main hall. The library has made the entire building public, which brought with it a challenge in both the layout and the interior design.
The client’s thoughts
Gispen is very service-oriented and truly unburdens you. When problems arise, they solve them without issue and carry on. They absolutely live up to the personal approach that Gispen stands for. We were appointed a single contact person, Merel van den Heuvel, who was very helpful. Gispen is not a supplier that drops off some furniture and walks out the door. They take their time and make sure everybody is satisfied, which holds true for all Gispen employees that are involved.
A journey through the library
Roy van Maarseveen, ZECC architect: “Our main goal was to establish a connection on more than one level: where in the past the post office was all about connecting with other worlds, the library is now more about connecting with the city, as well as with the building and amongst the visitors. This was realised integrally: we made changes to the core structure of the building and shared our expertise on the integration of the installations, finishing and furnishing. The structural interventions were carried out in collaboration with Rijnboutt: six large skylights were created on both sides of the main hall. We also added escalators that take you on a journey through the building. Whatever floor you are on, the main hall always remains the heart of the building. With everything that we altered, we respected what already existed. Our timeline complements the historic timeline, as it were, but is still recognisable as being contemporary.”
An extension of the city
Visitors will enter the monumental hall from the lively Neude square. The square has become an extension of the city where people meet up, read a magazine or newspaper and get a cup of coffee at café ‘Meneer Potter’. Roy: “The ground floor is characterised by an abundance of details and heavy ornaments. On the upper floors, the interior is more understated and functional.” Each department has its own, recognisable identity. From the children’s section on the first floor to the various adult sections and offices, workshop areas, cinema and ‘Stadsstudiehuis’ (study area) on the second and third floors. Roy: “All the fixed interior components have been given fairly neutral colours and combine well with the existing architecture. This allows for more vivid colours throughout the various departments, and ensures adaptability and flexibility in the future.” Playful elements add character and distinguish the different departments from one another – from a large Miffy character and bookcase house at the children’s section to a piano or bicycle desk elsewhere in the building. The furniture adds to this.
Dutch Design and timeless furniture
Client Elza van der Lee: “We wanted the building and its occupants to shine. The building itself is already striking. There is so much history to be found in the main hall alone! This is why we were searching for furniture that was somewhat understated; furniture that is straightforward, functional and timeless. In addition to a number of specials such as the Utrecht Armchair by Rietveld – with a reference to the city – we installed many of the same furniture items for a uniform look and peaceful environment. The fact that the furniture matches the interior so well is a direct result of the colour schemes. Choosing the right colours and upholstery is something we deliberated on continuously with Gispen and ZECC during this project.”
Merel van den Heuvel, Gispen account manager: “We supplied all kinds of striking furniture pieces such as Shaker chairs from Atelier van Lieshout at the children's section, Maarten Baas chairs at the lecture hall and we even reupholstered two Gispen 1407 armchairs. Furthermore, we supplied furniture that matches perfectly with this characteristic building, such as the wooden Artisan Fin chairs in the main hall; timeless and modern at the same time.” Gispen supplied and installed all the furniture for the public areas, including reading tables and lounge areas, as well as for the offices and restaurant. Merel: “The Library of Utrecht asked for our advice on the office section; this was quite a challenge.”
A challenging office implementation
The objective: install as many workstations as possible in a limited space, provide good acoustics, allow employees to concentrate and make the area multi-functional in use. Merel: “We supplied Gispen TMNL Dual workstations for a total of 60 people across two office spaces, with half of the workstations being sit-stand variants. The TMNL programme is very versatile and sustainable, and the desks support a healthy and ergonomic posture. Office chairs that were already owned by the library were still in good condition and were reused. Gispen SDK cabinets with planters form green office partitions, while dividing screens provide good acoustics. On the second floor, one will find a very large McArt screen that shows images from the Rijksmuseum, truly eye catching.” The restaurant features IC tables that are equipped with power outlets to allow people to work and confer here outside lunchtime. The glass-surrounded workspace of the director is also used as a conference area. The IC table with manual crank handle can easily be adjusted to the desired height.
A word from the architect
The open historic hall on the ground floor creates a feeling of hospitality and is a very high-quality environment to spend time in. We deliberately created a more layered design on the upper floors. The interior matches the historic character of the building. For each floor, we strived to create a view of the city that is as wide and beautiful as possible. During construction, we faced a number of challenges which forced us to alter and finetune the design in terms of components, but we did not have to make any concessions in terms of furniture; that doesn’t happen very often!
Are you satisfied with the result?
Elza: “We now see visitors use the building in exactly the way we had hoped. In a way, they have made it their own. You can see young people making their own hangouts at the pillow corners, for example. And children build entire hideaways using the cushions at the children’s section, while parents or grandparents find a comfortable seat in a corner. ‘It is such a pleasure to be here' is an often-heard compliment. This compliment also applies to Gispen, because our schedule changed quite a few times while the project was underway. They always managed to adapt to new and sometimes chaotic situations. Together with ZECC, Gispen has created a pleasant environment which we all enjoy.” Roy: “The result turned out exactly as we had hoped. In some ways even better due to the uniformity which has been established between the monument and the new features, the new interior and the various departments' own additions.”
Photography: Chris van Koeverden