The story of Winy Maas, architect

Besides placing an amazing building in Spijkenisse, a city next to Rotterdam, Winy Maas wanted to give the city and its residents something of value: he wanted to tempt them to read more, gain ánd share knowledge. He, quite literally, placed the books on display in the Boekenberg. The Boekenberg library invites the people of Spijkenisse in, all 75.000 of them, many lowly educated. Eleven percent of the people in Spijkenisse have trouble with reading, which is two percent higher than the country’s average. At the same time, the general income is relatively high. This library was made for these peo-ple, states Maas in the book ‘Boekenberg Spijkenisse. Biography is the building’, published by his Architectural Office MVRDV (Rotterdam).

Boekenberg: advertisement for reading, tomb for the book.

The new building is an advertisement for reading, but a tomb for the book as a ‘dying’ media, Maas tells magazine ‘The Architect’ in 2012. In the same interview, he confirms that architecture can influence people, ‘social engineering’ as it’s called. He tried to in-clude this in the Boekenberg as well. Also, he is not afraid of putting humor in his designs. Humor helps deal with the many demands an architect faces, he says. Maas likes to make a statement with his buildings: “Nowadays, buildings need to be as neutral as possible to be flexible and fit into a city’s aesthetic, this however leads to boring designs.”

Maas sticks to his beliefs and designs. This becomes clear in a quote from the former city councilor of Spijkenisse, Gert-Jan ‘t Hart: ‘He really sticks to his concepts, which tends to be a problem when this concept isn’t as functional for everyone, or when we run out of money. Compromises need to be made in these cases, which tends to be hard for people with his talent. It’s not a bad thing. He is in a position to make hard-to-reach goals.” What is the limit for compromising? Maas: “I’m not against making a com-promise, however, the original concept still needs to be visible.”

“Why such a striking building in the city centre of Spijkenisse?”

The original concept was to build a completely visible mountain, accessible and open or maybe with a dome-like structure around it. Both of these ideas weren’t possible. The building’s current structure was the biggest and most transparent solution. The pre-scription resulted in a barn-like structure, relating back to the city’s agricultural back-ground. The rest is history. Journalist Nicoline Baartman, author of ‘Boekenberg Spijkenisse’ writes: “He (Maas) is immensely proud to have been able to build a structure which not only takes this city in consideration but also adds a subtle comment to it.” There was some resistance from the residents of Spijkenisse: why such a striking build-ing in their city centre?, they wondered. Especially to these people, the building seems to be a statement. What other option was there? Plain and boring?

Alice in Wonderland

The former city councilor made a statement in response to the comments: “We are number one in building on grassland. Some grass left? Let’s build something! Hand Spijkenisse some grassland and we’ll build a new residential block.” The Boekenberg changed this. ‘t Hart remembers the first presentation like it was yesterday: “I still remember how he (Maas) took the microphone and started telling Alice in Wonderland. The room became quiet and he pulled people into the story of the library (…) He told an illusion, a fairytale. It was truly amazing.” Winy Maas desperately wanted to build the library, and nine years later, here it is. But not all his wishes panned out as he wanted. For example, he wanted to create an ‘nOHS-zone’: ‘non-OHS’ (Occupational safety and health) and therefore not by the official rules. A quote from the afore mentioned publication states: “…and with some research you could find some antique edi-tion somewhere or a steamy collection of erotic novels.” The ‘nOHS-zone’ never made it into the final draft, and the black furniture Maas had envisioned, disappeared after the restructuring in 2016. The director and his employees craved some more colour and a home-like feel.

“At that moment, the book was snatched from my hands by the librarian”

Perhaps his preferences originated from his childhood, when his own choice in books was very limited. Winy Maas:

“The library in my village was run by the church. (…) I used to visit a lot when I was about eight years old, when you could really only read what was suitable for you. At first I stuck to the age-restrictive rules like a good kid, but I read quite a lot of boys books. After about half a year, I had finished all of the books. So I went on to the next shelf, I wanted to keep reading. But just as fast as I had finished the first shelf, I had finished this one. Eventually I ended up reading books for 12 and 14 year olds, 4 years before my age. (…) These shelves contained books for ‘growing children’ with sex-scenes. I had grabbed one of them with the idea of borrowing it. At that moment, the book was snatched from my hands by the librarian. (…) After that, I decided to go to the large library.” Perhaps this is how the ‘large library ideal’ was created in his mind, a building that houses an immense amount of books.