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werk, bauen + wohnen 11-2019

werk, bauen + wohnen 11-2019

Opening Church Spaces

Eating lobster under Gothic cross-vaults? Practicing the sun salutation in full view of the crucified Christ? Or changing nappies and playing hide and seek? Is it justifiable to release a consecrated space for the banalities of daily life and to convert it into an event or experience space? Where do the boundaries to the use of church spaces as real estate assets actually lie? And what opportunities do empty buildings offer as a kind of commons for social needs in a broader sense? What are the architectural challenges associated with this? In answering questions like this, which tend to be both morally and architecturally explosive, what is true of the art of conversion is again applicable: a solution can only be found caso per caso (cf. wbw 1 / 2 – 2019, «Seams»).
Radical solutions are quickly found, they are inexpensive, and the possibility of failure is great. In Holland or England there are innumerable examples of church spaces that have been converted into sports halls, apartments, discotheques and indeed even into brothels. In some cases both the architectural and spiritual dignity of the spaces has been offended.
In modern Western society faith and the church have long since ceased to permeate daily life. But perhaps social daily life along with its needs could increasingly move into the church and give it a new meaning? Naturally, this editorial is not an argument for more religion in life, and certainly not for the darker sides of church hierarchies. But if one moves around other cultures and other cities, for instance in Asia, one notices how closely interwoven spirituality and everyday life are there, even today. Everywhere there is a temple, a shrine in front of which one can pause and reflect for a while … And is architecture
 itself not also a fairy tale realm in which one either believes or doesn’t?
All the examples presented in this issue show how the dignity of religious space can be transferred to a new entity. In the successful adaptations and conversions this was ultimately achieved by means of architecture, even if it did not play the leading role. Architecture is a way of thinking. It is a medium that knows how to mediate between material and idea,
 between space and people, between here and there. Without its ennobling presentational machinery many a space, if profaned, would remain just that: profane. —  Tibor Joanelly,  Daniel Kurz