A Public Living Room
Utopia Library in Aalst
The Utopia building by Kaan Architecten organizes a variety of public functions into a lively meeting place for the urban population of Aalst.

Three older women sit at a large table, engrossed in a game of Scrabble. A children’s ballet class has just started, while a group of teens is working at the computers on the second floor. The new library in Aalst is a lively meeting place, and much more than a place to borrow books. Classrooms and rehearsal spaces are fully booked; the tables in the restaurant are all occupied. Of course, there are also plenty of quiet spaces for concentrated work – offering views out over the rooftops in the historical centre of this Flemish city in Belgium.

Flemish realism

Utopia’s complex programme not only includes a municipal library and administration offices, but also an academy for the performing arts. The polygonal building has a total area of 8,000 m2. The Netherlands-based architectural firm, Kaan Architecten, won the competition in 2015. Their design for Utopia integrates an existing historical building, which in the 19th century served as a military school. The new structure echoes the old with its facades of locally sourced bricks, whose colour reflects that of the existing buildings in the area. The free-standing volume thus blends in well with the cityscape, while creating new public outdoor areas on three of its sides. Tall windows, some covering multiple levels, open onto the city, making the inner life of the library and arts academy visible to the outside world.

In 1516, the political novel “Utopia” by Thomas More was first printed in Aalst in East Flanders; the city’s inhabitants voted to name the new public venue after this famous humanist work. Since open- ing last June, the library has received 5,000 addi- tional membership registrations. Utopia has received up to 3,000 visitors per day, only half of which were expected. “If this trend continues, we won’t be able to admit any more people,” said the director....

Read the full text in DETAIL 4/2019

Text: Sandra Hofmeister



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Dr. Sandra Hofmeister

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