The Old and New keep inspiring
By Miguel Bermudez
Photography: Etienne van SLoun
Establishing a connection between ancient architectural spaces and contemporary design provides a unique experience. Two religious structures within the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands illustrate the special significance of salvaging and rededicating ancient buildings.
The Selexyz Dominicanen bookshop is housed within the walls of a gothic church, which dates back to 1294. Built Dominican monks, it was the first gothic structure in the Low Countries. The structure remained with the Dominicans until they were expelled by Napoleonic troops, when it became a horse stable for the occupying forces. At the beginning of the 19th century, the building was used as a music hall, carnival house, and for boxing matches. Christmas fairs, a hall for school examinations and a parking garage for bicycles were additional activities that took place in this space. In 2006, this magnificent structure became a bookshop and architects, Merkx and Girod created an exceptional contemporary design for this latest mission that juxtaposed the ancient with the modern.
The architects emphasized the monumental proportions of the structure by installing a black perforated steel multi-level flat. This device encourages visitors to explore the books at a variety of levels and at the same time, drawing the eye to the magnificent gothic celling. The designers kept the vastness of the church intact and created a sufficient space to present a multitude of books by creating a large steel bookcase structure that consisted of a two story steel construction in the shape of two bookcases 30 meters long and seven and a half meters high. This structure includes staircases, an elevator and two integrated workspaces (1). The church walls, and the building’s frescoes, floors and windows are visible from all sides of the structure, which has been placed in the building’s interior, and the building’s altar became a café.
With 1,100 square meters of surface containing some 50,000 books, hosting 140 events per year from book presentations to concerts and receiving some 800,000 visitors per year, this bookshop is considered the fairest bookshop of the world, a bookshop made in heaven (2).
Kruisherenhotel Maastricht is a city center hotel and restaurant complex housed within a former monastery and adjoining gothic church.
The structure dates back to the 15th century when land was donated to the Order of the Holy Cross to build a cloister and a church. The Monastery’s friars copied and bound books within its walls until they merged with other local monastic communities and began caring for the poor and sick. In 1797, during the French Revolution they were forced from their church to provide space for a military barrack and arms storage area. Over the centuries, the building served many different purposes including its use as the seat of an agricultural research facility.
In Date, the architecture of this magnificent building was celebrated when Camille Oostwegel of the Chateau Hotels & Restaurants Group transformed it into a luxury hotel. Internationally acclaimed interior designer Henk Vos, was the project’s visionary and lighting installations were created by Ingo Maurer. The project includes works by Le Corbusier, Rietveld, Marc Newson, Piet Hey Eeck, Philippe Starck and Roderick Vos.
The former monastery now includes a restaurant, bar, reception area, library and meeting spaces. As with the Selexzys Dominicanen bookshop, a structure was created within and separated from the building’s walls which provides views the building’s architecture from nearly every angle. The restaurant at the top of the structure gives the impression of reaching up to the building’s immense ceiling. A glass elevator and glass wine cellars seem to float- they create a sense of surprise through this unique design. Throughout the interior, the tread of history smoothly transitions to the modern design and the original stained glass and ceilings are reflected throughout the space.
In many parts of Europe creative, adaptive reuse is breathing new life into these former houses of worship and we can continue to celebrate and honor these ancient structures with the expertise of the architectural and interior design community.
These two extraordinary examples of unions of modern design within ancient religious structures have had success that was probably unexpected. The heart of these old places of worship has come alive again for the public to enjoy, and they appear to have a more potent effect on the human experience of space, color, architecture, design, light and materials than many other buildings.
After all, in the words of Richard S. Vosko (3) “these places of worship only became sacred when someone had a conversion there, when someone was initiated into a religion there, when someone fell in love there and when someone was buried there”. It is as if the power of worshiper’s memories over centuries has found relevance in our modern world. These impressive structures, now fitted with exciting contemporary design are conveying a message from the past through books, art, music, food and wine, lectures and gatherings for all of those that wish to enter these rejuvenated spaces.
(1) Boekhandel dominicanen. Uitgeverij, tic. 2014.
(2) The Guardian 2008.
(3) Richard S. Vosko. Architecture for Worship.
The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions. Briana Papa. NYC
ChâteauHotels. Camille Oostewegel jr.
TEFAF. Office of Marketing and Communications.