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Hidden in Plain Sight

Title: Hidden in Plain Sight. Assessing the Roof Structures of Post-war Church Buildings in a Context of Adaptive Reuse

Tutor(s): Sven Sterken + Laurens Luyten (+ Charlotte Ardui)
21-22, Semester: 3+4
Engagement: Legacies
Open for students in Interior Architecture
Language: NL/EN
Campus: Brussels/Ghent

Individual master dissertation, max 3 students

Reflecting both the Christian upsurge and the massive suburbanization of Western societies after World War II, an enormous amount of new churches were built across Europe, the USA and Australia in the 1960s. Financial resources were limited however, and speed was of essence. Therefore, church architects increasingly turned towards industrial (and then often still experimental) building systems such as laminated timber, steel space frames and concrete beams (pre-stressed, Preflex, etc.). Often left exposed, these structural solutions also supported the spatial articulation of the interior and underscored the exterior appearance of the church as a ‘shelter’ for the faithful – a popular metaphor at the time. Thus, the roof structure became the defining feature of the post-conciliar church, which became a totally different type of building than before. Today, however, the church roof has in many cases become a major source of concern for the local community: the sealing is often bad, there are stability issues and the energy performance is totally inadequate. On the other hand, the heritage value of this post-war architectural heritage is increasingly being understood and acknowledged as social and spatial markers of community in the urban periphery. In a context where the future of many church buildings depends on their adaptability for other uses than religious services, the question thus becomes: how to enhance the performance of these structures with respect for their original purpose and expression?

The goal of this master dissertation is to explore this issue on a case-based manner. The thesis could take the form of a taxonomy of the most recurrent types of roof structures and their typical  pathologies; or become a detailed investigation of one particular case, resulting in a design-based remediation of the issues at hand; another format is a more historical or typological exploration of how these structural systems impacted church design, how contractors and engineers intervened in the design of these religious spaces, and how these buildings were perceived in the architectural press and amongst the worshipping community. Cases are preferably located in Flanders, but examples from abroad are welcome too (provided you have access to them). The precise angle of investigation can be determined in the course of the first semester. In terms of output, the research should result in a carefully designed document that, through an intelligent combination of drawings, images and text presents a clear overview of the research process, synthesizes the documentation found along the way, and formulates clear statements about the issues mentioned above.