July & August 2024

Centenary at the Neude

The building that used to be a post office and now houses the Neude Library is celebrating its centenary this year. The joint creation of architect Joseph Crouwel and sculptor Hendrik van den Eijnde is just as impressive as it was in 1924. Guide Jan Smits took journalist Marloes Elings on a tour of its hidden gems.

In the travel library on the ground floor, guide Jan Smits fondly taps an enormous piece of Belgian blue limestone. ‘This piece of stone wasn’t used to make a sculpture at the time. The bosses at the post office apparently didn’t think it necessary to create art in the place where the staff worked.’ Smits strokes the stone and continues on to some art-deco statues sculpted from the same stone in the main foyer. ‘These have been polished, blackened and oiled,’ he explains, going on to bombard me with a barrage of fun facts.

‘Have you seen the joeys in the kangaroos’ pouches?’ Smits asks. ‘And did you know that these statues look so Egyptian because that was hip in the 1920s?’ He leads me to the main entrance to the library. ‘These mussel limestone lions were only made a year after the post office opened. They’d run out of money.’ He points to the stained glass window above the entrance. ‘They were only able to afford that in 1931. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that it not only shows the coat of arms of Utrecht, but also of other provinces.’

Plastic owls

Jan knows everything there is to know about the building designed by Crouwel in the Amsterdam School style. Well, almost everything. He spent days in the Utrecht and National Archives studying this former main post office. He visited both the New Institute in Rotterdam, which houses the architect’s archive, and the Drents Museum, where Van den Eijnde’s archive is stored. But every now and then, like a few weeks ago, he finds something new. For weeks, he rang everywhere and everyone possible to ask about the two owls perching on the stair towers on the Oudegracht side. ‘I called ornithologists, architects… everyone I could think of.’ Then he bursts out laughing: ‘It turns out that the owls are made of plastic and are there to scare the pigeons. Some architectural discovery!’


Next stop: the second floor. Jan wants to show me his favourite spot. Two women look surprised when the retired Professor of Law & Technology climbs onto their bench and signals to look outside. ‘Just look at the way they’ve incorporated old and new in the use of profiled tiles that are only glazed on the outside, so that they’ll develop a red glow over time. Just like the old roof tiles. It’s a real masterpiece.’

On our way to the theaterzaal, almost at the top of the stairs, he suddenly says ‘Look left.’ One shiny white roof tile with a Delft Blue drawing stands out among the other glazed roof tiles. ‘It was a builders’ joke. Of course I wanted to know which roof tile that is, so I called the factory in Makkum. They denied all knowledge of it, but I now know that this ceramic roof tile is the F5 from the Krijgsknechten series.’

We continue upwards until we can see the plastic owls. ‘See the ferns around the edge of the mussel limestone on the stair towers? They’re Polypodium Interjectum ferns,’ he says proudly. ‘Very rare in the Netherlands.’

Hidden hatch

As we wander through the building, he points to small, round, metallic covers in the wall, bearing the word ‘Sulzer’. Jan looks baffled. ‘I’ve never looked at those before. It’s probably a German company that manu­factured the central vacuum cleaning system. There used to be a huge machine where the Albert Heijn is now.’ He thinks about the name again. ‘I’ll look into that.’

On the first floor, we walk past the balconies overlooking the main foyer. Smits explains about the clock that was designed by Crouwel and made by the Porceleyne Fles in Delft. A bit further along, we pass a bookcase, behind which there’s a hatch that gives access to the clock. ‘It’s quite a job resetting the clock for summer and winter time every year.’ He points to the yellow brick parallel arches in the main foyer. ‘Crouwel used almost a million Frisian glazed bricks for the inside of the building. And millions of ‘apple blossom’ bricks for the outside.’

Jan is ecstatic about the listed building. It stole his heart in 1987, when he moved from Tilburg to Utrecht. ‘As the son of a building contractor, I couldn’t believe that a building made from fortified concrete could have so much allure. It simply oozes craftsmanship.’

The Centenary celebrations will be in the weekend of 10 and 11 August



Bibliotheek Neude

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