By Marta Urbaneja Lozano
As a second-year Euroculture student, I have come across many fellow Euroculture students who have spent at least one semester in Groningen. It never ceases to amaze me that the vast majority of them fell deeply in love with the city despite its small size and, a priori, few tourist attractions. Let´s be honest, Groningen is not Amsterdam or Rotterdam. However, there is something about this city which makes visitors simply love this place. In spite of its reduced size, Groningen is full of charming spots, bright parks, peculiar Dutch-style streets, and buildings full of stories. Precisely, speaking about buildings, in this article I would like to introduce you to my absolute favourite one: The Forum Groningen.
The opening of Forum Groningen, located right next to the main square, was not marked by good luck. This construction was very controversial from the very beginning, due to its high costs, more than 150 million Euros, provided by the provincial government and private investors.) Moreover, its unconventional architectural style, completely disruptive compared to Groningen’s historic city centre, was harshly criticized by the public. When it was finally inaugurated in November 2019, 7 years after the start of its construction, the Forum Groningen remained open for just a few months as Covid-19 forced the world into lockdown. Nevertheless, since its reopening on June 5 2021, this building has become Groningen´s main highlight.
But we are skipping the main part… What is the Forum Groningen? As described on its official website, the Forum is a meeting place full of possibilities: a public library, a cinema, a study space, a Smartlab, a roof terrace, shops, bars, restaurants… And best of all: all these spaces enjoy incredible views over the city and surroundings thanks to numerous wide windows which sometimes occupy the entire façade of some floors. Entry to the building is free and, once inside, there is about the same number of public and private spaces which can be enjoyed.
So, do you want to take a tour around this magnificent building?
First of all, let´s speak about the design of the building. The group NL Architects were in charge of designing this modern monolith of 45 meters high which was intended to resemble the Centre Pompidou. The Forum could be described as a composition of lines and geometric shapes which constitute one big unit of light tones. Two big glass entrances allow access to visitors, opening the building to the outside world. When standing on the ground floor, the Forum Groningen rises as a massive giant over oneself. Looking up, visitors realize that the edifice is composed of two towers joined together through a myriad of escalators (for those Potterheads reading these lines, something similar to Hogwarts´ moving stairs). On this ground floor, the public is welcomed by a café with affordable and tasty coffee, a primary necessity for those studying in the library, and a store which offers a wide variety of nice souvenirs.
The first escalators take us to a children’s area. This space is any child´s dreamland as it is full of music, toys, interactive activities, books, and cartoons. Indeed, this area is called Wonderland. Thus, from the very beginning, the Forum Groningen appears as a family-friendly space, able to provide activities and entertainment for all ages.
The youth section of Groningen´s public library is located on the following level. The Forum´s designers decided to divide the library into smaller sections, spreading them all over the building. Similarly, comfortable armchairs can be found at strategic spots, right in front of the wide windows. A simple tip for anyone who is in a severe reading slump: just take a walk through the Forum´s floors and your problem will be solved.
Next stop: Storyworld, an interactive museum of comics and games. Visitors will not only witness the initial process of cartoons´ creation but will also get hands-on with these designs. A little further on the Smartlab stands, an area devoted to technology, accessible to both adults and children. Here, technology items such as 3D printing machines are used in weekly workshops.
Film lovers, this section will drive you crazy: a movie theatre is featured as one of the Forum´s main attractions. Numerous English-spoken movies are screened in this space as well as international films with English subtitles (so convenient for foreign Euroculture students!). Moreover, the whole floor is stylishly decorated with tapes, DVDs, and CDs, a bar, and even TV viewing chairs with installed sound systems.
Right above the cinema area, there are numerous working spaces: offices, conference rooms, diverse library sections, and unique studying spaces (working with a panoramic view of the whole city is a little less stressful, almost enjoyable). The top floor is home to a lovely restaurant called Nok, ideal for a special occasion. And finally, right above Nok, one of the most outstanding spots: the rooftop. The views over the city are simply exquisite and, if you are lucky enough to get a sunny day, there are numerous tables to have your urban picnic. Furthermore, during summer nights, an open cinema is deployed in this space.
One of the Forum Groningen´s main highlights is accessibility as the whole building can be explored by those using a wheelchair. There are elevators which could substitute the escalators, running from the ground floor to the rooftop. Moreover, the cinema offers films with audio description and audio transmitters for those with infrared hearing aids.
The list of events weekly organized at the Forum Groningen is immense, including talks, art exhibitions, and even Dutch courses. If you have decided to spend a semester in Groningen, I encourage you to follow the Forum Groningen on social media to make the most of their proposals! For all of us Euroculture students, this space is not only valuable for its incredible study places, but also for its strategic position in the city centre: in the event of a heavy storm (day-to-day life in this city), the Forum Groningen will always be your best and most entertaining shelter!
Photo credit: Alexei Maridashvili