Someone sent me this blog post from a few years ago, showing the startling transformation of a Dominican church in Holland that was converted to a bookstore—complete with a coffee bar where the altar once stood:
We’ve seen some breathtaking libraries in the past and this bookstore is no exception when it comes to innovative design. One branch of the popular Dutch bookstore chain Selexyz can be found right inside of a 13th century Dominican church in Maastricht, Holland. The project known as Selexyz Dominicanen Maastricht, designed by architecture firm Merkx + Girod, exemplifies a brilliant union between the opposing aesthetics. The space maintains the church’s architectural structure and definitive design attributes while inviting the contemporary stylings of a modern bookstore.
Built in 1294, the cathedral features large open spaces boasting three-story bookshelves. Being that the church contains 1,200 square meters of shopping space with only 750 square meters of floor space, the architects decided to design vertically. They incorporate the modern scheme of the shop without obstructing the religious motifs or structure of the ancient venue.
For many, reading a good book can be a religious experience, but this new bookstore in Zwolle, The Netherlands takes that idea to a whole new level. Architects BK. Architecten were tasked with converting this 15th century Dominican church into a modern bookstore with the addition of 700 square meters of shopping space. But there was one major catch: all the historical elements of the 547-year-old building including stained glass windows, pipe organ, ceiling paintings and expansive arches had to remain intact.
Incredibly, BK. Architecten managed to add three levels of retail space to the side wings of the church in a manner that the entire structure can one day be removed in order to restore the church to its original design. In addition only three colors of building materials were used to mimic the existing palette of the cathedral’s interior to further ensure that the bookstore would pay reverence to the original space.
I guess when one considers other ways old churches can be used—the former cathedral in Los Angeles, now a catering venue, leaps to mind—using what was once a temple for The Word as a marketplace for words makes some sense.
But it’s still sad to see these beautiful once-sacred spaces remade into secular shrines of commerce. It says something about what we have become, what we value, and what we worship.