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Resilient Structures? Post-War Church Roofs in a Context of Adaptive Reuse

Supervisor: Sven Sterken
Campus: Ghent or Brussels
Language: EN or NL
Max number of students: Max 3 students
Engagement: Craftsmanship


Description of the project:
The phenomenon of redundancy makes church buildings one of the most discussed building typologies today in Western Europe when it comes to adaptive reuse. This is especially the case for post-war churches, which have a more precarious status as ‘younger’ -and often not protected- heritage . Due to decreasing service, a lack of knowledge on their (once modern) roof constructions and a neglect in maintenance, these churches are now confronted with serious signs of decay. As restauration costs are often too high, this leaves these building vulnerable for demolition, despite their innovative roof structures and the large, open spaces they create. The thesis will thus focus on the material, typological and liturgical novelty of these post-war churches to get a better understanding of their potential future use. We start from the current physical status of the structures of these buildings: which defects do they show today? Can several degradation patterns be detected? How will these defects influence future design choices in a feasibility study for the building?

This dissertation requires technical insight as well as design skills and can take various forms depending on the perspective on the topic. Students will be part of the FWO research project “Meaning and Material. Towards a Multidisciplinary Assessment of Post-War Church Roofs in a Context of Adaptive Reuse” (2023-2027), directed by promotors Sven Sterken and Stephanie Van de Voorde. This dissertation thus offers a perfect opportunity to become part of a larger research team and get closely acquainted with the practice of a doctoral research.

Expected output: Students will start with an extensive literature study; from there, they can choose for an in-depth exploration of an existing case (in Belgium or abroad) including a design proposal for adaptive reuse, a written thesis with a taxonomy of recurrent pathologies in experimental church roofs and their remediations, or a historical thesis that explores the influence of these structures on the spatial and liturgical renewal of these buildings.

Study trip? (+ timing) With a view to devoting the second semester entirely to writing or designing, students are expected to conduct the required field or archival work during the summer break or the first semester.

References/Further reading:

  • Ardui, Charlotte, Niek De Roo, Tania Hertveld, Cateau Robberechts, Sven Sterken, Sara Vermeulen, Els Vervloesem, and Erik Wieërs, eds. Herscheppen (*). Brugge: die Keure, 2024.
  • De Schutter, Geert. Damage to Concrete Structures. Florida: CRC Press, 2012.
  • Harris, Samuel Y. Building Pathology: Deterioration, Diagnostics, and Intervention. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2001.
  • Sterken, Sven, and Michel D’hoe. “Jong, beschermd en herbestemd. De transformatie van de Sint- Jozef Arbeiderkerk in Vosselaar van Marc Dessauvage tot bibliotheek en vrijetijdshuis.” Monumenten en Landschappen 41, no. 5 (2022): 23–36.

(Picture: refurbishment of the church of Sint-Jozef Arbeider in Vosselaar (1963-1967) from Marc Dessauvage @Yvan De Coster, 2019, property of the local committee of Vosselaar)