Thomas Geraedts

Analysis on

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Religious Heritage


Table of Contents




Religious Heritage


Significance of heritage

First of all, a definition of the overall term ‘her

itage’ will be formed in order to zoom in on re

ligious heritage. As Wessel de Jong stated in the

first lecture of Methodologies of Architectural Re

use, heritage has the following meaning. Herit

age consists of all the qualities, traditions and

features that have been maintained over several

years and is preserved from one generation to

another. Heritage refers especially to objects that

are of historical importance or that have had a

strong influence on society (de Jonge, 2017).

The way I perceive heritage can be formulated in

a broader way. Heritage is all the elements that

surround us. For example tangible heritage: the

landscape, the built environment, but as well the

intangible things. It contains all the matter that

our ancestors left for us.

Heritage is not just old objects left behind, but

everything that was present before. The historical

importance leaves us a certain value. We have to

deal with this value in everything we do.


Religious heritage

Vacancy is a structural problem in our coun

try, and therewithal all over the world. That’s

why adaptive reuse of buildings which have lost

their function is a priority for most governments

(Meurs, 2016). Churches, monasteries, office

buildings, farms, etc. are on that list of adaptive

reuse. As Wessel says in his lecture: “a monas

tery every month, a church every week, a farmers

estate every day and office blocks at even higher

rates.” (de Jonge, 2017).

Buildings need to evolve over time in order to

fulfil the contemporary function, which is need

ed. This essay is going to take a position into

adaptive reuse of the first two types of heritage,

religious heritage.


Adaptive reuse of religious heritage

Adaptive reuse is about the matters of conserva

tion and heritage policies. Throughout the time

the built environment will diminish in use and

function due to faster technical, economical or

political development (Joachim, 2002). The func

tion requirement of specific building envelopes

won’t fit the contemporary anymore. Especially

community buildings such as churches have lost

their former function.

Adaptive reuse can be seen as a key factor in land

conservation and to reduce the urban sprawl.

In controversy adaptive reuse can be seen as an

vague boundary between renovation, facadism

and adaptive reuse. There has to be an accord

between historic conservation and demolition.


Precedents of adaptive reuse of religious


Examples of adaptive reuse of churches will be

discussed, thereby an opinion will be described in

each case of religious adaptive reuse. In the next

paragraph a position will be taken in adaptive re

use of religious heritage.


Dominican Church Maastricht

A great first example of adaptive church reuse is

the Dominican Church in Maastricht. The church

was built in the 13th century, since the invasion

of Napoleon in 1794 the church lost its function.

It was used as a parish, after that a warehouse,

then as an archive and the last function before

the adaptive reuse was a huge bicycle shed. This

church is finally transformed into a giant book


The bookstore consists of a three storey black steel

book framework stretched up to the stone vaults

(see fig. 2.2 – 2.4). At the back of the church vis

itors can admire the beautifully renovated ceiling

frescoes originally made in the 14th century.

The new function of this church is a great suc

cess. It works perfectly, there is a combination of

bookstore and reading cafe, where customers can

enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat (see fig. 2.5). It

attracts a lot of people all over the world. I think

such a success is a design goal, the church is in

great use again. With a great restoration and con

servation of the typical religious elements, plus

relative small interventions this church thrives



Holy Trinity German Catholic Church Bos


The next example is a more rigorous approach of

redevelopment. The Holy Trinity Church in Bos

ton, will be redeveloped to a huge apartment

block. An eight storey glass-and-steel building

surges out the 1877 church’s roof (see fig. 2.6).

The whole interior of the church will be demol

ished and transformed into apartments and corre

sponding functions. Is this still adaptive reuse?

This example tends towards facadism. The whole

inner structure will be replaced, only the facade

is going to be restored. This was necessary be

cause of the economic advantage of more square

metres of apartments.

My opinion on this case of reuse is ambiguous.

The designers (Finegold Alexander Architects)

had the choice to either demolish the church and

build new apartments, or integrate old and new

in a rigorous way (facadism) in order to partly

behold the historical entity of the church. In this

case I would prefer the facadism option, to re

develop it to economically profitable apartments

and keep the historic importance.

Fig. 2.3: Dominican Church Maastricht Bookstore (Photo: Perry van


Fig. 2.2: Dominican Church Maastricht Bookstore (Photo: Diane


Fig. 2.4: Dominican Church Maastricht Bookstore (Photo: Diane


Fig. 2.5: Dominican Church Maastricht Coffeelovers (Photo: Coffee


Fig. 2.6: Holy Trinity German Catholic Church Boston (Rendering:

Finegold Alexander Architects)


Milan Church to divine office

Architect Massimiliano Locatelli converted an

16th century church into his own architects office.

A four storey steel structure, built in the rear of

the church, accommodates offices and planning

areas (see fig. 2.7). This intervention doesn’t af

fect the original structure in any case. The steel

structure is open at every side, in order to let the

employees and visitors admire the original fres

coes at the ceiling and walls on different levels

(see fig. 2.8). The last level consists of meeting

rooms and offices which protrudes over the fornt

part, this results in an intriguing view over the

entire space (see fig. 2.9). In the vaulted crypt are

various functions accompanied such as the kitch

en, the model lab and a library.

In relation with the first example, this relative

small intervention gives a great new function to

the before unused religious heritage. The new

structure collaborates with the existing and is

easily distinguishable.

Fig. 2.7: Milan 16th century church transformed to divine office

(Photo: François Halard)

Fig. 2.8: Milan 16th century church transformed to divine office

(Photo: François Halard)

Fig. 2.9: Milan 16th century church transformed to divine office

(Photo: François Halard)


Understanding analysis

Before the goal and use of analysis will be ex

plained, first a definition from Oxford Advanced

American Dictionary: Analysis – noun

1. the detailed study or examination of

something in order to understand more about it;

the result of the study

2. a careful examination of a substance in

order to find out what it consists of

3. psychoanalysis

In order to specify analysis to our domain, the

term architectural analysis will be defined by

utilizing the Masters thesis by Shandiz Shahram.

The first approach can be to peel of a building’s

skin in order to reveal the underlaying ideas. Sec

ond to compare and realize relationships in a de

sign. Last but not least to copy and paste compo

nents to create new links. Architectural analysis

appeared in the period of modern architecture. It

is used by designers as a methodology that pro

vides a vision or concept (Shahram, 2014).

Martin Fowler gives us the reason why analysis

is used. It helps understand the conceptual lan

guage and the underlaying ideas (Fowler, 1996).

As Marten de Jong says in his lecture, to ana

lyze is to understand what is (already) there (de

Jonge, 2017).

In relation with this essay it is important to un

derstand what is already there, because heritage

is all about what is present. In order to design

adaptive reuse, I think it is very important to val

ue the existing in its historical importance. With

this knowledge and values, the designer is able

to design a coherent, new function of (religious)


Thereby analysis is an important aspect for com

munication towards a third party, as Fowler told

us before: to understand the conceptual language.

Another point of communication is that analy

sis gives the designer comprehensible starting

points, that evolves into a clear concept.




Fig. 3.1: Analysis to former prison functions in order to understand

the building’s structure and circularity (Own work)



The conclusion of this essay is the position how

I look upon the adaptive reuse of different given

examples of religious heritage and the methodol

ogy a designer should use in order to design this

reuse of heritage in a proper way.   


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