The SCHUNCK story

The SCHUNCK story

The Schunck department store was a business which was ahead of its time, with a foresight for investing at a time of crisis. SCHUNCK, in its current incarnation, is so named in reverence to the businessman that had the Glaspaleis built.

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SCHUNCK is still an innovative and vibrant place for everyone today as it was back then, with its offering of cultural and educational activities for young and old. SCHUNCK is a household name, with a rich history in an iconic building looking forward to an inspirational future.

Schunck family business

In 1874, Johan Arnold Schunck moved from Kettenis near the Belgian town of Eupen (then in Germany) to Heerlen to set up a hand-weaving mill. He and his family ended up on the Kerkplein, the main square in Heerlen, where Schunck acquired a number of small properties. The business continued to flourish and when Arnold died in 1905, his son Peter took over.

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Around 1930, Schunck had his eye on an unsightly looking plot of land on the south side of Heerlen’s market place (now called ‘Bongerd’). The economic prospects at the time were a lot less promising than they had been in the 1920s, when the economy of the newly evolved coalmining region burgeoned. Nevertheless, Schunck had plans for a new building, despite the fact that he didn’t yet own enough land for these plans to materialise. He wanted to radically transform the way in which his products were sold and to do this, he needed extra space. At the time he was selling textiles over the counter using a book of samples. The rolls of fabric themselves were in the warehouse. Like many market traders, his idea was to set out his stall of textiles with his rolls of fabric now on the counter. So, in 1933, Frits Peutz, was given the assignment to design a ‘spacious and tall store’, which is the current Glaspaleis (literally ‘glass palace’).

Mine closures

After the phased closure of the Limburg mines between 1965 and 1975, Heerlen’s economy all but crashed and Schunck’s fortunes declined accordingly.

After being vacated by Schunck, the Glaspaleis accommodated various shops and restaurants, but eventually those tenants left too and for a while it provided studio space for artists. It was touch and go as to whether the Glaspaleis from 1935 would be demolished. It was as if every physical reminder of the region’s mining history was being obliterated, under the pretext of a new start. In 1975, the last mine closed and by the mid-1980s the municipality in Heerlen was bankrupt. Just one generation after the glory years of the 1950s, when it was the richest and the most modern city in the Netherlands, the city was destitute.


Instead of being demolished, the municipality decided in 1995 to renovate the Glaspaleis. The contract was awarded to Wiel Arets Architects and Jo Coenen. The building now holds the accolade of being one of the most influential buildings of the 20th century, according to the International Union of Architects.


Today, operating under its original name, SCHUNCK is being used as a multidisciplinary cultural institute housing a museum for modern and contemporary art, a centre for research and presentation in the field of architecture and urban planning, a public library and a school of music and dance, as well a restaurant and café.

SCHUNCK is a place for anyone who likes a good read, enjoys music or dance, has a predilection for visiting art exhibitions or is interested in architecture and the way in which the urban environment is designed.

In February 2015, the SCHUNCK Glaspaleis was nominated as European Heritage.