THe Bastille

‘A beautiful woman with cumbersome jewellery’: the Bastille building. The building, designed in 1969 by architect Piet Blom, was intended to be a miniature town, a place of academic encounters and free student living. She was definitely a beauty, no doubt about that. But honestly, that jewellery...

Piet Blom designed the Bastille building in 1969 to be a dramatic citadel filled with niches, staircases, corridors and peepholes where students could meet up. His first idea had actually been for a collection of buildings that would form a screened-off ‘town’ on campus: buildings designed ‘with multifunctional use of space’ that would inspire activity and challenge users to seek out new encounters. Unfortunately for this ambitious plan, the administration of what was then Twente Technical College wanted a single location offering a single meeting space, so Blom downsized his design from a whole town to one still-impressive building. Thanks to its massive stone facade and little towers, so reminiscent of the world-famous prison fortress in Paris, it was christened the ‘Bastille’.

Although it ended up being just one building, Blom’s genius found a way to incorporate his entire miniature town into that structure, turning it into a truly extraordinary fort. The Bastille building centred on a square vertical core with a staircase, around which Blom placed four concrete cubes. The complex positioning of the building sections turned the interior into a real labyrinth, built on no fewer than 13 different levels. The 12 mezzanine floors were designed with dozens of balustrades, low walls, niches and little staircases. The cobbled floors helped create a ‘town feel’, an atmosphere only enhanced by ceiling draperies that reminded users of clouds. Blom’s intention was to help students increase their social well-being by giving them a building they could see as their own little town. Blom himself described the building as ‘a beautiful woman with cumbersome jewellery and a low-cut neckline. This isn’t some trendy girl with an effortless style of beauty’.

For a long time, the Bastille was at the heart of the campus and was indeed the student fortress the architect had envisioned. However, over the years the building gradually fell out of use. Blom’s little town got ‘clogged up’ and no longer met modern requirements. So, in 2003, the Bastille building was thoroughly renovated: the Executive Board commissioned the Student Union to transform the Bastille into a vibrant centre for students.

Architect Robert Winkel updated Blom’s cosy, enclosed Bastille to turn it into the light, spacious citadel it is today, still in use as a meeting space for students. In the heart of the building he created the Atrium, a large space like a central ‘town square’. The new windows in the roof let in the light and put an end to the labyrinthine character of Blom’s design. The north and south entrances are now encased in transparent, square boxes that house the stairs, and two glass extensions to the south offer extra space, but otherwise the façades remain intact, preserving the Bastille’s robust character.

The Board of the University of Twente knew they would face significant resistance to such a drastic renovation. Some people thought Winkel’s adaptations ruined Blom’s original design, and it has even been said that Blom’s son shook his head as he walked through the recently renovated building. Be that as it may, the renovation and the efforts of the Student Union mean that the Bastille is a bustling student space once more. As may be expected, the building houses Student Union committees such as Create Tomorrow and Kick-In, but it is also the home base for Roboteam Twente and several start-ups, not to mention the trusty Vesting Bar. With Subway moving in and the revival of De Stek bar, the building is actually beginning to look a lot like a miniature town...

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