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OMG! Van God Los

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Faith in the Periphery

Team: Sven Sterken, Charlotte Ardui
Master Dissertation studio, Academic year 2020-21
AOB: Van God Los/OMG!

Engagement: Legacy

Track: (Dutch) Master of Architecture, Brussels

During the post-war years, Flanders developed in to a ‘nebulous city’: the region became almost entirely urbanized and is covered today with an ubiquitous, low-density built fabric. As part of this rapid suburban expansion, a very important number of parish churches were built across Flanders. Whereas the Catholic faith constituted a self-evident part of daily life for most people until the late 1970s, this is no longer the case today; more and more churches are closed for there are no more priests and faithful to use them. As a result, the question arises: what to do with this important building stock? While over the past few years, a lot of design expertise has developed with regards to the adaptive reuse of churches, it mostly pertains to the traditional, processional church types such as the (neo)gothic ones, located in the urban centres. In the 1960s, churches were built according to very dissimilar ideas and in a totally different context however. While their construction method, liturgical setting and architectural typology were often quite innovative, these buildings are generally disliked today and are ageing badly; this neglect causes an important part of our modern architectural heritage to disappear from the radar almost unnoticed.

This studio looks at these modern churches as resources or future urban development. In the light of the societal challenges ahead (mobility, ageing, climate change, etc.), the low density of the suburban areas is becoming a serious burden. Churches are very valuable assets in this regard: often strategically located and representing large volumes, they (still) play an important role in the local community as a mental and geographical beacon. This studio therefore asks: how can these buildings support the future development of their (sub) urban context? Thus, beyond the economic and functional pragmatism that characterizes much of adaptive reuse practice today, this studio seeks to investigate the socially and spatially structuring potential of (former) church sites with a view to check how they can contribute to strengthening the future resilience of the urban sprawl in Flanders.

The approach will be hands-on and based on specific sites, which we will investigate in great detail and in close interaction with the local stakeholders. At the same time, the studio is embedded in a broader educational and research context: as part of the AOB Van God Los/OMG!, it builds upon a dedicated research seminar (ELG2 ‘Onderzoeksseminarie Architectuurgeschiedenis’, B-KUL-A34384) and constitutes a laboratory for the ongoing PhD research project ‘Faith in the Periphery’ undertaken by Charlotte Ardui (http://www.faithintheperiphery.com). Thus, this master dissertation studio offers a solid and stimulating environment where, next to developing your creative capacity and research skills, you will be encouraged to develop a well-founded stance towards a pressing societal issue. Via this link you can find a portfolio with examples of work done in previous runs of this studio. For practical reasons related to archival material, the studio will be in Dutch only.

Image: René Van Steenbergen, Church of Sint-Jozef Werkman, Laakdal © Olmo Peeters, 2018