Three things happen. You lower your voice. You look up and realize the enormity. You make the way to the altar – in a gothic church it is all about space and light
In 2006, the Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht, owned by Ton Harmes, firstly opened its doors to the public and therewith revolutionized the classical perception of a bookstore. Built into the first gothic church ever erected on Dutch soil, the store does not only captivate its international visitors with the broad collection of almost fifty-five thousand books but also represents a historical attraction.
Dominicanen, Maastricht – from a church to a bookstore
The Dominican church, whose construction process initially commenced in 1265, belongs to the properties owned by the city of Maastricht and was officially desacralized by the catholic church in 1846. From thereon it served the role of storage room for the council of Maastricht, as a school, the headquarters of the Maastricht Municipal Orchestra, and later a bicycle shop. When Ton Harmes discovered the church as the ideal location for his bookstore, he was already months on the hunt for a place with character. «The building was in bad conditions when we first viewed it», Harmes describes. «The city of Maastricht did not want to restore this building when there was a bicycle shop in it. They were very enthusiastic about the idea of a bookshop».
The prospect of a new concept that would be profitable for the city of Maastricht, the Departure of National Heritage and the bookstore itself, affirmed the restoration in five years. The Foundation Restoration Atelier Limburg became the liable party for the main restorations in the church. The attributes of a gothic building such as high glass windows with religious or decorative ornaments, the keystones of the arches, or the visible marlstone are still conspicuous nowadays. When the architects Merkx and Girod commenced with the project of transforming the church into a bookshop in 2004, the precondition of preserving the charm of the building and working with boundaries of the monumental status set the boundaries. They retained most of the facade untouched, yet added a steel door entrance to convey the idea of a world of books opening up to the visitors.
The inside now features elements of modernity that almost naturally assimilate into the historical context. The concept of a two-story steel construction facilitates the presentation of the broad book selection and parallelly makes the space for the visitor more visible. Harmes explains: «Three things happen when one enters the church. Firstly, you lower your voice. Secondly you look up and realize the enormity and lastly you naturally make the way to the altar, (…) In a gothic church it is all about space and light. (…) The enormous dark book flat only enhances the quality of the building and makes it seem bigger and stronger».
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Bookstore in Maastricht, Netherlands
In the back end of the church, where the altar used to be, the coffee bar of the oldest coffeemakers in Maastricht, Coffeelovers, offers the visitors a place for delight and exchange with others. «On the altar, we shared bread and wine and that is basically what we do here. People are coming together in a relaxed environment, where they feel safe and at home. We see that happen all the time».
A strategy and signs that lead the way through the church are not necessary for Evelijn De Jon, Deputy Manager of the Boekhandel Dominicanen. Most people would walk towards the altar and that would naturally lead them though the bookstore. Not only the volume of books seems to attract visitors from all over the world. The department of English books is a constantly growing section and the general collection includes books in twenty-five different languages. Moreover, the bookshop owns the largest Magazine selection in its direct environment. From the history of art and architecture, over gardening to fashion. The variety of independent magazines is being displayed on a twelve-meter table. Those looking for a souvenir or a present can be seduced with the variety of gifts that the shop offers.
Beyond books, the Boekhandel hosts up to two hundred events each year, including readings and book signings, concerts, galas, or exhibitions. They previously welcomed names such as the Irish author John Boyne (The Boy I The Striped Pyjamas), Spanish writer Maria Duenas (El Tiempo Entre Costuras), the jazz musicians Lucas and Arthur Jussens or Dutch artist Klaas Gubbels. In cooperation with the student organization, the building once a year serves the role of a gala location. The different facets of the concept becharm a diversity of people. «In architecture, there is a philosophy of the third place. Your first place is where you were born and where you live. Your second place is where you work. Your third place is where you would like to be, when you are not at home and not working. You can have hundreds of third places and we are a third-place for many people. (…) That is the biggest compliment you can get as a retailer».
Boekhandel Dominicanen Maastricht, Adres: