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Is this the most beautiful bookstore in the world?
December 30, 2007 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Is this the most beautiful bookstore in the world? The Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht opened its doors in November. Located in the city's old Dominican church - which for years had been used as a bicycle parking garage - the building has been extensively redesigned by Dutch architects Merkx + Girod. From the images you can find on the web you can see that it is a bookshop made in heaven. Many books in English too.
posted by MrMerlot (65 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's incredible. I love to see old, seemingly redundant buildings put to great new uses. It really is asympathetic but strikingly modern design. I know a few bookshops that are aesthetically-pleasing on the outside (like my local Borders bookstore in Glasgow) but to carry this through into the interior of the building is great.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 6:06 AM on December 30, 2007


Why should a bookshop look like a church? Try again.
posted by Termite at 6:06 AM on December 30, 2007


Damn, the Europeans get all the really cool shit. Lucky bastards.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:11 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's strikingly beautiful at first...then you get to the crucifix table. I'm not offended as I would expect others to be, yet it seems aesthetically unnecessary, like they couldn't be radical without striving for controversy. Plus, take away the church setting and you're left with what appears to be standard library design with some long tables thrown on the floor. Still, I give it high points for function and originality. I like to see something as common as a bookstore take chances like this.
posted by dgbellak at 6:16 AM on December 30, 2007


Many books in English too.
Was it really necessary to point this out? There are a lot of good bookshops that don't have any English books. Just because they have English books and they advertise the fact doesn't make this a good post (although it may be). Please, in future, be a bit more aware of peoples sensibilities.
posted by tellurian at 6:22 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Looks more like a library than a bookshop. Still doesn't beat Buenos Aires El Ateneo on my personal ranking.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 6:38 AM on December 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


My sensibilities are unoffended by the knowledge that this somewhat ridiculous bookstore has English-language books.
posted by aerotive at 6:46 AM on December 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's just that Dutch bookstores often have lots more books in English than in other continental European countries. Not many people know that and not many non-Dutch speak Dutch. But apologies if I offended any sensibilities.
posted by MrMerlot at 6:47 AM on December 30, 2007


Amazing—I hope I can visit it someday! Great use of space, great pictures (but I have to say I wish the architectural photos didn't exclude all evidence of human beings; I like the Flickr set better because you can see people enjoying it). I loved the first comment on the first link:

Jesus Says:
This is wrong.

As for:

Many books in English too.
Was it really necessary to point this out? There are a lot of good bookshops that don't have any English books. Just because they have English books and they advertise the fact doesn't make this a good post (although it may be). Please, in future, be a bit more aware of peoples sensibilities.


I'm hoping this was some kind of obscure comic riff, because if it was serious, it's a little bizarre.

Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 6:56 AM on December 30, 2007


The place looks perfect for a serm....ehhmmm..for a lecture , book presentation and all the social stuff of the cogniscendi, with additional sexy librarians which are never too tasteless.
posted by elpapacito at 6:59 AM on December 30, 2007


Reminds me of the VCC at RPI.
posted by Skorgu at 7:04 AM on December 30, 2007


Looks more like a library than a bookshop. Still doesn't beat Buenos Aires El Ateneo on my personal ranking.

The metal shelving is an odd choice, it gives off a cheap/efficient university library vibe. I think wood shelving would have given more of a bookstore feel and fit in more with the architecture.
posted by bobo123 at 7:04 AM on December 30, 2007


The place looks perfect for a serm....ehhmmm..for a lecture , book presentation and all the social stuff of the cogniscendi, with additional sexy librarians which are never too tasteless.

You know, a lot of people tell me I'm one of those sexy librarians. Must be the beard.
posted by bradth27 at 7:08 AM on December 30, 2007


The metal shelving is an odd choice, it gives off a cheap/efficient university library vibe. I think wood shelving would have given more of a bookstore feel and fit in more with the architecture.

I think the reason that the metal shelving was chosen was to contrast with the brick of the walls. It was one of the things I really liked about it. Of course, YMMV.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 7:09 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's better than most church conversions I've seen - a hideous shopping arcade in Derby comes to mind.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:25 AM on December 30, 2007


Yeah, the shelving actually sets my teeth a-grinding. It strikes me as less a beautiful bookstore, and more a beautiful church that happened to get a bookstore jammed into it.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:31 AM on December 30, 2007


Reminds me of the VCC at RPI.

I used to love hanging out in there. From what I heard, when they transformed it into a computing center they used the mainframes to heat the building. Nowadays the new technology doesn't put out enough heat to do that.

I always found it ironic that, at a tech school, all the computers were in a house of worship.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:35 AM on December 30, 2007


Library or club, maybe, but the brand-new-books-lined-up-perfectly thing (with repeats!) sort of kills the otherwise-gorgeous aesthetic for me.

Love the linkage, though; thanks.
posted by heyho at 8:17 AM on December 30, 2007


I'm not offended as I would expect others to be

FWIW, I'm a believer (which makes the anti-Xtian bias around here a little eye-roll-inducing at times), and I find it a nice reminder that a desanctified structure doesn't mean that the presence of G*d is now an absence, and that the divine can juxtapose itself pretty nicely with the everyday -- one of those "wholly"/"holy" things. I'm reminded of an old firehouse that was turned into an Italian restaurant in my hometown -- they kept the brass firepole, buckets etc. around as decoration and to remind patrons of the building's heritage.
posted by pax digita at 8:17 AM on December 30, 2007


As a Christian, I'd much rather see a church used as a bookstore, versus a bicycle garage. In fact, its rather quite fitting, given the role that monasteries played in preserving knowledge and text over the centuries. As for the table, it comes off as more contrived and silly, than offensive.

p.s.

I had no idea that Dutch bookstores often carry a large selection of English text. Thanks for the info!
posted by Atreides at 8:27 AM on December 30, 2007


Speaking of churches converted to other uses: anyone out there remember the Limelight in NYC? All sorts of unholy activities went on in that place!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:27 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of Seattle's new library; boat-loads of empty space where books should be...
posted by Tube at 8:32 AM on December 30, 2007


If you're going to Maastricht to see this, you could stay at the Kruisheren Hotel, which is a church converted to hotel. Maastricht is just beautiful - I got a tour from an architect friend, and it's a really beautiful town.
posted by dhoe at 8:44 AM on December 30, 2007


As a Christian, I'd much rather see a church used as a bookstore, versus a bicycle garage.

Says you, but to your average cloggy, the bicycle is sacred.
posted by three blind mice at 8:45 AM on December 30, 2007


Wonderful. A surprisingly cool move too by BGN/Selexyz, which while not being held in particularly low regard AFAIK is kind of perceived as "just a chain" (or perhaps more accurately a franchise). But boy, I'd worship there.

Also: library porn (SFW).
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:58 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


For a beautiful bookstore in a much smaller space, I just visited a comic book shop called Secret Headquarters in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Immaculate design, lovingly restored hardwood floors, beautiful typography, and comfy furniture. Here are some photos from Yelp.
posted by waxpancake at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also: cloggy? :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2007


Well, now that many churches operate out of storefronts, it seems only right that there should be stores in old church buildings. I'd certainly worship there (in my bibliophilic fashion). I also like Atreides's point above, about the historic importance of monasteries as repositories of literacy.

And now I have one more city on my ever-lengthening dream itinerary...
posted by GrammarMoses at 9:17 AM on December 30, 2007


Speaking of churches converted to other uses: anyone out there remember the Limelight in NYC? All sorts of unholy activities went on in that place!

Heh. I was thinking the same thing.

I'm a believer (which makes the anti-Xtian bias around here a little eye-roll-inducing at times), and I find it a nice reminder that a desanctified structure doesn't mean that the presence of G*d is now an absence, and that the divine can juxtapose itself pretty nicely with the everyday


As an ex-believer (who also dislikes the anti-religion bias), I agree; people who get upset about the conversion of church buildings don't grasp the basic distinction between structure and function. A church is just a collection of building material until it's consecrated; once it's deconsecrated, it's just a structure like any other, though often more interesting than most. And the deity, if you believe in him/her/it, is omnipresent.
posted by languagehat at 9:25 AM on December 30, 2007


Lovely. Thanks!
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on December 30, 2007


Profanely beautiful.
posted by samsara at 9:36 AM on December 30, 2007


A perfect place for book worshippers (like myself). No I am not offended at all by the conversion of a church to a bookstore. The cruciform table is a rather nice touch.

And I am delighted that, in this amazon-world, real bookstores continue to exist and thrive in some parts of the world. Many of my favourite Vancouver bookstores have closed because of online stores and megastores.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:45 AM on December 30, 2007


The most beautiful bookstore in the world is in a large old building in the warehouse district. There are books and books and books. There is an order to the the arrangement of the books but the reasoning behind the order is not immediately apparent and the order is sometimes ignored by the cadre of bibliophiles and crazies who work at the place. Once you are in the stacks you cannot see any architectural details because you are surrounded by books. Please let me know when you find this bookstore and please let it be open 24 hours.
posted by rdr at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


RDR, I know where that is. I've spent hours in the stacks there.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2007


Though repurposed, these churches are still involved in the betterment of mankind and personal ascent to the heavens: Glasgow; Manchester; Dayton, Ohio; Edinburgh.
posted by jet_silver at 10:48 AM on December 30, 2007


Oh, the irony. I didn't see seawallrunner's comment. :P

seawallrunner, I'm the opposite. I like real bookstores, but they annoy me. They never have what I'm looking for, and privately owned bookstores often mark books up from the cover price(!). Granted, I live in a backwater, but the fact remains that I can spend $80/month on Amazon and get whatever I want. If I relied on locally owned stores, I'd have to exclusively read inspirational books and best-sellers; if I drove the thirty miles it is to the nearest Books-A-Million, they still wouldn't have anything by my favorite author. Bookstores are great for the bibliophile--walking through them, looking at the books, just browsing aimlessly--but I would argue that Amazon and AbeBooks and so on are better for the reader.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:52 AM on December 30, 2007


Well I love bookstores too. But just to get back on to topic, I'm trying to create a definitive list of the word's most beautiful bookstores (thanks for the Secret Headquarters waxpancake) any other suggestions would be gratefully received.
posted by MrMerlot at 11:39 AM on December 30, 2007



It's better than most church conversions I've seen - a hideous shopping arcade in Derby comes to mind.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:25 PM on December 30 [+] [!]


Do you mean St Werburgh's, fearfulsymmetry? How to ruin an historic church in one easy lesson.
posted by essexjan at 12:06 PM on December 30, 2007


...anyone out there remember the Limelight in NYC? All sorts of unholy activities went on in that place!

Oh, yes. Many memories!

Peter Gatien (who Guiliani set his sights on in his campaign to clean-up New York) last year turned his focus to Toronto -- Circa.
posted by ericb at 12:06 PM on December 30, 2007


MrMerlot, Daunt Books has to be on your list.
posted by essexjan at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2007


I'm reminded of an old firehouse that was turned into an Italian restaurant in my hometown -- they kept the brass firepole, buckets etc. around as decoration and to remind patrons of the building's heritage...

In Boston the former Charles Street Jail has been reborn as The Liberty Hotel with Click Restaurant and Alibi Bar (set in the old "drunk tank"). "Solitary Dining" is available in your own room.*
posted by ericb at 12:10 PM on December 30, 2007


Do you mean St Werburgh's, fearfulsymmetry? How to ruin an historic church in one easy lesson.

That'll be the one... blimey, didn't think anyone else would know about it. Was around the corner from where I used to work.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:51 PM on December 30, 2007


It's stunning, but it's intimidating. Like rdr said, the experience of a bookstore should be about getting lost in the stacks, not gliding around in a gorgeous marble cavern with steel bookshelves. It should be about losing yourself to the words, yes? This bookstore feels too steeped in stoic history and cold. I feel like I need to be someone with a PhD or somehow important to be there - hard to lose yourself that way - whereas my favorite bookstores only require a love of reading, and almost all of them have at least one resident cat. I can't find the cat in those pictures. That said, this would be a great location for a library, especially some sort of academic library.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:19 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Freud Cafe in Oxford (England) occupies a former church. I used to go there, and loved all the little touches--they split up the pews and reused them as table benches. Also, there was a sign in the back saying "No smoking in the apse."
posted by A dead Quaker at 1:25 PM on December 30, 2007


WOW, thank you for posting this. I spent 4 months in Maastricht during an exchange. That trip was my "growing wings" period - I lived alone for the first time (with other 10 students, all from various European countries), in a foreign country, and had all the classical "college" experiences that made me feel like I was in a film, because it was all too good.

I was the first one to arrive to our floor, and it was empty and hollow. I was alone, profoundly alone for the first time - there was no one around, and I knew no one in the entire country, let alone the city. I decided to take my camera and stumbled downtown, without a map. (I made it back by intuition, and this alone was already a huge leap.) This church-turned-bike storage was one of the most marvelous things I've seen that day. It was the perfect start for the trip. An old building, a church, nothing like anything in Toronto, and full of bikes! I couldn't believe it. From my photos that day, I called this "odd" (as well as dogs in a store. I'm not sure why allowing dogs inside a store shocked me so much, but it did).

Here's the photograph. I miss those times - those 4 months were incredible; but that first day, walking around, and being completely culture-shocked were awesome, and this church was a profound part of that.

I'm kinda sad it turned into a book store. I hope that the next exchange students will still be culture shocked. I hope that if not this, something else will.
posted by olya at 1:39 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


(incidentally its my birthday today; this was absolutely lovely as a birthday present! :-) )
posted by olya at 1:40 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


happy b-day olya!
posted by liza at 2:15 PM on December 30, 2007


I WOULD HIT IT!

Just because they have English books and they advertise the fact doesn't make this a good post.

But for people on an English-speaking website who might want to go by there, knowing this fact doesn't hurt.

Happy birthday olya.
posted by jessamyn at 3:01 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is this the most beautiful bookstore in the world?

Not to this beholder. A beautiful bookstore should induce claustrophobia as the walls of books close in on you like a womb. The Strand is a beautiful bookstore. Avenue Victor Hugo was a beautiful bookstore. Haslams is a beautiful bookstore.

This place is a church with bookshelves.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 PM on December 30, 2007


Stunning. The first photo in particular reminds me a little of the Jedi temple library.
posted by The Monkey at 6:07 PM on December 30, 2007


Why do people write "G*d" instead of either writing "God" or simply using a description in place of the name? At this point in internet history, "G*d" reads as "God" anyway, so it's not as though blasphemy has been avoided. (One may as well try sidestepping the issue by writing "G0d".) Does not the capital "G" signify enough reverence?
posted by voltairemodern at 8:44 PM on December 30, 2007


Er, also the church-bookstore looks magnificent. Guess that went without saying...
posted by voltairemodern at 8:45 PM on December 30, 2007


Why do people write "G*d"

What are y*u talking ab*ut? D*esn't everyb*dy write it like that?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:12 PM on December 30, 2007


Speaking *f which, a reminder t* Mr. Merl*t: y*u misspelled g*d in your tags.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:15 PM on December 30, 2007


Why do people write "G*d" instead of either writing "God" or simply using a description in place of the name?

From jewfaq.org:

Writing the Name of God

Jews do not casually write any Name of God. This practice does not come from the commandment not to take the Lord's Name in vain, as many suppose. In Jewish thought, that commandment refers solely to oath-taking, and is a prohibition against swearing by God's Name falsely or frivolously (the word normally translated as "in vain" literally means "for falsehood").

Judaism does not prohibit writing the Name of God per se; it prohibits only erasing or defacing a Name of God. However, observant Jews avoid writing any Name of God casually because of the risk that the written Name might later be defaced, obliterated or destroyed accidentally or by one who does not know better.

The commandment not to erase or deface the name of God comes from Deut. 12:3. In that passage, the people are commanded that when they take over the promised land, they should destroy all things related to the idolatrous religions of that region, and should utterly destroy the names of the local deities. Immediately afterwards, we are commanded not to do the same to our God. From this, the rabbis inferred that we are commanded not to destroy any holy thing, and not to erase or deface a Name of God.

It is worth noting that this prohibition against erasing or defacing Names of God applies only to Names that are written in some kind of permanent form, and recent rabbinical decisions have held that writing on a computer is not a permanent form, thus it is not a violation to type God's Name into a computer and then backspace over it or cut and paste it, or copy and delete files with God's Name in them. However, once you print the document out, it becomes a permanent form. That is why observant Jews avoid writing a Name of God on web sites like this one or in newsgroup messages: because there is a risk that someone else will print it out and deface it.

Normally, we avoid writing the Name by substituting letters or syllables, for example, writing "G-d" instead of "God." In addition, the number 15, which would ordinarily be written in Hebrew as Yod-Hei (10-5), is normally written as Teit-Vav (9-6), because Yod-Hei is a Name. See Hebrew Alphabet for more information about using letters as numerals.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:32 AM on December 31, 2007


I can't help but think there's a wee bit of poetic... justice? irony? in the fact that a church - often the source of calls for book burning - is being used to sell books.
posted by Zinger at 8:18 AM on December 31, 2007


The idea of being really good so that I can get into "heaven" when I die has no appeal to me whatsoever, but if instead of "heaven" you insert THIS BOOKSTORE, then I'm all over it.

ABSOLUTION NOW, PLZ.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2007


Side note: I never write G-d with the o, out of some genetic superstition from the Chosen People or something. I also find that using Dog (fi: "What in the sweet name of Dog is this?!") instead of g-d works just fine for emphasis and avoids that pesky "name of the Lord in vain" business. YMMV.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:41 AM on December 31, 2007


I've got to give a shout-out to my corner Li-bary: LOC represent!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:53 AM on December 31, 2007


I still believe that Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal is the most beautiful bookstore in the world.
posted by quartzcity at 12:14 PM on December 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


quartzcity - wow. You might be right.
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on December 31, 2007


Thanks for the post!! I only wish it was in my neighborhood.
posted by doug3505 at 9:57 PM on January 1, 2008


Hmm! Sorry about that. No, I wasn't serious. I was riffing off the recent copyright post where the attractiveness of the photographer was pointed out and 'Many books in English' at the end of this post struck a similar chord with me. Quite a few of you took me literally, so I guess it wasn't very well crafted. You live and learn.
posted by tellurian at 5:53 AM on January 2, 2008


The first time I visited the Netherlands I was quite surprised how many English books were in their bookshops etc, certainly more than France. But later on a friend who lived there for a while told me, most of the Dutch are pretty pro-Anglo, are bi-literate and could easily and often did watch British television.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:07 AM on January 2, 2008


So... if I write "g*d" on a piece of paper and then later happen to wipe my ass with it, nothing bad will happen to me, but if I write "god", I'm, like, f*cked? What kind of 5 year old god do they think will fall for this?
posted by Termite at 10:37 AM on January 3, 2008


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