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The Inhabitable Church

Supervisor(s)  Sven Sterken 
Campus Ghent/BXL 
Language EN or NL 
Studio or individual?   Individual  
Max number of students?  Max 3 students  


Description of the project:  

Over the past decade, the issue of redundant churches has become a major topic of debate in Flanders. As a result of the declining participation in public worship, combined with the chronical shortage of priests and the heavy financial burden caused by a systemic lack of maintenance of these buildings, it is estimated that at least 1/3 of the 1800 parish churches in Flanders will need to be heavily renovated, repurposed or demolished in the near future. While the public opinion seems to have come to accept churches becoming adapted for other uses than purely religious (such as libraries, cultural centres, community facilities, etc.), this is on the assumption that they remain accessible to all. Proposals that entail a privatisation of the church, be it for commercial or residential purposes, generally meet with resistance out of fear for an unrespectful treatment of the building, or it becoming the privilege of only a select group of people. This dissertation seeks to challenge both assumptions by critically examining a series of good practices from abroad and testing their relevance for the Flemish context. This will be done through a research-by-design approach, i.e. that a number of scenarios for adapting a typical parish church for residential use will be examined. This dissertation will not constitute a mere academic exercise, for the research will be conducted in collaboration with the Symbiosis foundation of public utility (https://www.symbiosis-stichting.org/), a non-commercial organization that seeks to foster the preservation of heritage places through accessible and community-based forms of inhabitation. Thus, the spatial investigation will be provided with a solid real-world basis, resulting in a design that can potentially act as a model for the future.  

Expected output: literature study, design proposal (scenarios), research report 

Study trip? (+ timing): With a view to devoting the second semester entirely to writing or designing, students are expected to carry out the required field work and literature study during the Summer break or the first semester. 

References/Further reading: for an overview of some recent examples of adaptive reuse of churches, see https://www.parcum.be/nl/herbestemming-kerken  

Image: Lukas-K Haus, Essen (former Evangelical Church). Conversion into apartments by Böll Architekten, 2013. Picture: Sven Sterken, 2023.