A Future for Church Buildings

 

Seven churches in Oss and Uden

 

22 February 13:00 - 17:30

Vertigo, FLoor 7, Room 7.06 and Urban Lab space

 

Within the next decennium it is expected that half of the church buildings in Noord-Brabant will have to close. At this second mini-symposium we once more reviewed the possibilities for a new destination of 7 churches in Oss and Uden.

Friday afternoon, students prepared the Urban Lab space on Vertigo's seventh floor for the welcoming of some fourty interested guests. The models of each designed intervention, two for each location, were displayed on the central table, resulting in an exhibition of fourteen abstracted churches in gray and brown cardboard.

After a warm welcome, guests and students joined in the lecture room. Ditmar van Grinsven (program manager for living and perifery) introduced the challenge that the municipality of Oss is facing, ranging from small modern churches to large monumental churches, such as the massive Sint-Sebastiaankerk in the small village Herpen. Van Grinsven was followed by Dirk Somers who provided some insight from his architecture practice.

 

Dirk Somers of Bovenbouw Architectuur Antwerpen discusses something he calls the empathic way of intervening in heritage. Despite the fact that his office never realised a redevelopment of a church, two competition entries illustrated Somers' intention and he further elaborated on the topic by showing Bovenbouw's intervention in an ensemble of ninteenth century buildings on the Meir in Antwerp. The office's way of showing empathy to the building's presence and the effort that has been put into it by previous generations of architects and builders leads them to adopt a more or less empirical method of designing; going throughout the building step by step, each time paying attention to its architectural elements separately. 

The main activity of the mini-symposium comprised the students' presentation of their work on seven churches in Oss and Uden. They had been working on intervention strategies for various types of churches for the past semester. Among the audience were guests coming from parishes, the villages, the municipalities and the province, all interested in and open-minded towards the ideas that the students had developed.

An interesting conclusion drawn from the discussion after each project was that the opportunities for intervening in a church are very different between traditional, neogothic churches and modern churches. Important is the difference in urban embedding: the traditional churches have a clear monumental front facade, less monumental sides with repeating buttresses, and a symmetrical backside shaped in plan like a equilateral polygon cut in half. Modern churches (read postwar churches) often do not have a clearly demarcated front or even a direction at all; they behave more like solitary yet monumental all-sided objects planted in an open field.

The contrast between a monumental front and a repeating side resulted in case of the traditional churches in an interesting family of interventions, mostly consisting of extrusions of the space between the buttresses. It conveyed a strategy for handling this kind of churches, presenting a quite straightforward design approach, but at the same time showed that perhaps architectural possibilities for this type of church are restricted. 

The interventions in modern churches on the other hand showed the difficulty of extending a building that is all-sided and more similar to a sculpture than a traditional church. This either resulted in an intervention that stayed contained within the boundaries of the existing building, or it purported the juxtaposition of a second all-sided object on the lot that, together with the original, more clearly defines the surrounding open public space. 

Frank Strolenberg of the Rijksdienst Cultureel Erfgoed concluded the event by responding to some of the strategies posed by the students and thereby sparking discussion between the students and the attending parties. 

 

Interested in the designs and strategies devised by the students of the Urban Lab? We will soon publish the individual projects on our online database. Stay tuned!