In Belgium, the construction of a church building is not only a matter of the parish community and its architect, but also requires the approval of municipal, provincial and national authorities. My research on post-war churches in Belgium has identified the influential rol of provincial architects in the process of church building. For example, in the capacity of provincial architect, Jozef Schellekens (1909-1963) was involved in the construction of many twentieth century churches in the district of Turnhout. In 1942, in the case of the Sint-Antonius Abt church in Mol-Donk, Schellekens urged architect René Van Steenbergen to design a site plan for the further development of the neighborhood before choosing a location for the new place for worship. As Schellekens already made clear in his De architectuur in ons landschap en het stedebouwprobleem publication (1941), he was convinced that “finding the right place for building a church is a matter of town planning.” About twenty years later, in the case of the Sint-Jozef Werkman church in Veerle-Heide, Schellekens affected the building style of this new parish church. Although the church council and the parish priest preferred a traditional style, Schellekens demanded a modern design. He saw it as his responsibility to aim for modern churches. Moreover, Schellekens not only advised other architects in church building projects, but was also in charge of projects himself, such as the restoration of the Sint-Dimpna church in Geel. Thus, it should not be underestimated that church building was an important assignment for many architects in the post-war period.
More information about Schellekens’ architecture and artwork can be found on the following website: http://www.jozefschellekens.be/. On the occasion of Open Monumentendag, this week, you can visit the modern house that Schellekens designed with Theo Op de Beeck in Turnhout. More information: here.
The St Pius X’s church in Wilrijk is not only a remarkable modern sacred building, but also an interesting case to study the way the Roman Catholic Church negotiated on its presence in the ‘ordinary’ suburban context of Antwerp during the post-war period. Read more about the establishment of this suburban parish and the construction of its principal sacred site in our new article in the proceedings of the conference Genius Loci: places and meanings.
Weyns E., Sterken S. (2017). ‘Constructing a Genius Loci: the St Pius X’s church in Wilrijk, 1957-1967.’ In: Rosas, L. (Ed.), Sousa, A. (Ed.), Barreira, H. (Ed.), Genius Loci: lugares e significados | places and meanings: Vol. 1 (pp. 251-263). Porto.
Here is yet another post about our small exhibition on the religious architecture of René Van Steenbergen. To stay in the holiday mood, this one is about postcards! For the exhibition, we printed postcards displaying historic and contemporary photographs of all the buildings, of which you can see some examples here. This idea was inspired by the custom of making postcards of newly constructed church buildings. On the backside of the cards, we also added a short text about the background of each church to quickly inform the visitors. Best wishes from Turnhout!
Last month, we organised a small exhibition about the religious architecture of René Van Steenbergen (1911 – 1995) in Turnhout. Van Steenbergen was a very active architect in the Campine area during the post-war period. He has an oeuvre of no less than 800 buildings, covering the different programs of the Welfare state: single family houses, schools, churches, offices, industrial buildings, sport complexes and hospitals. As you can see on this map, he realized 14 new churches in the province of Antwerp, making him the most productive church-builder of the province in the post-war period.
The exhibition featured the models of most of Van Steenbergen church buildings, made by students of the KU Leuven Architecture Faculty, and research papers on the context of these buildings, made by students of the KU Leuven Arts Faculty (under supervision of Sven Sterken and Eva Weyns). This exhibition was the start of a three-year research project on Van Steenbergen by KU Leuven in collaboration with AR-TUR and Architectuur Archief van de Provincie Antwerpen (APA). To be continued!