The Shared Use of the Parkwijk Church in Turnhout

Church of the Blijde Boodschap by architect René Van Steenbergen in the Parkwijk in Turnhout, Belgium, 1972 (Weyns, 2015 / Architecture Archive of the Province of Antwerp in Antwerp, archive of René Van Steenbergen).

The redundancy of Catholic parish churches is in many Western countries an increasing issue. This process seems to affect especially the most recent buildings, often located in peripheral neighbourhoods. We discussed this issue during the 50 Years after the Second Vatican Council. Taking the Modern Church into the 21st Century session at the 14th International DOCOMOMO Conference in Lisbon, where I prented the case of the Blijde Boodschap church in the large-scale social housing project the Parkwijk in Turnhout, Belgium. Despite a serious decline in religious use, this church (designed by René Van Steenbergen, 1972) remains functional for other community activities. In my paper, I thus examined such shared use as a way to tackle the vacancy of modern churches.


Modern religious architecture in Lisbon

Modern religious architecture in Lisbon, from the top left to the right bottom: church of the Convento de São Domingos (2005), entrance of the Igreja do Coração de Jesus (1970), and two interior views of the Igreja do Senhor Jesus dos Navegantes de Paço de Arcos (1969) (Weyns, 2016)

Last week during the 14th International DOCOMOMO Conference in Lisbon (06-09.09.2016), I had the great pleasure to visit a few interesting Portuguese modern religious sites. Our little tour included the following churches: the church of the Dominican convent (2005) by architects José Fernando Gonçalves and João Paulo Providência, the national monument the Sacred Heart of Jesus church (1970) by architects Nuno Portas and Nuno Teotónio Pereira which received the prestigious architectural price Prémio Valmor in 1975, and the parish church of Paço de Arcos (1969) in the suburbs of Lisbon. While the minimalist interior of the contemporary São Domingos attracts many worshippers every Sunday, the two brutalist churches from the 1960s have little users left. In my next post I will tell you more about how we discussed this issue of redundancy of modern churches during our session at the DOCOMOMO conference: 50 Years after the Second Vatican Council. Taking the Modern Church into the 21st Century.

Adaptive reuse of the modern church in Vosselaar

The former Sint-Jozef Arbeider church is Vosselaar, architect Marc Dessauvage, 1967 (Maïté De Bièvre, 2014).

Since 2010, the municipality of Vosselaar (Belgium) is looking for a new use for this modern church building by architect Marc Dessauvage (1967). Recently, the architectural office Studio Roma, in collaboration with Sven Sterken (Faculty of Architecture, KU Leuven) and Achilles Design, has won the design competition for the reconversion of this former church. In the future, this site will become a lively meeting place offering services for leisure, such as a library.

Close to home

Construction of the Sint-Jozef church at ‘Ter Hoeve’ in Testelt, ca. 1964 (Parish archive of Sint-Jozef in Testelt).

Building churches is a huge operation, in which the local population was often a helping hand. During a site visit of the Sint-Jozef church in Testelt, I noticed these pictures of the construction of the church. As these pictures show, the new inhabitants of the ‘Ter Hoeve’ neighbourhood in Testelt were devoted to building the brick walls of their new church. Much to my surprise, I discovered that one of them depicts my grandfather!

Catholic Territories Expert Seminar

Calendar with Flemish Modern Churches of the ‘Vlaamse Toeristenbond’ and the ‘Vlaamse Automobilistenbond’, 1967.

On this week’s agenda, there was the Catholic Territories Expert Seminar.  For this seminar we invited Nick Bullock (Emeritus Reader at University of Cambridge), Oliver Chatelan (Lecturer at University Jean Moulin Lyon 3) and Bieke Cattoor (Post‐doctoral researcher at KU Leuven) to give feedback on the research project. It was a very interesting and motivating day!

Posters of post-war parishes

I like to share some of the posters my architecture students (KU Leuven, Faculty of Architecture) made about the development of post-war parishes in Belgium.

Poster about the Saint-Pie X parish in Petit-Ry, Ottignies (Eline Cooman, Iza Godderis, Mathilde Jacobs, Noemie Deschuyteneer).
Poster about the Sint-Jozef parish in Wezembeek-Oppem (Laurence Dugardyn, Céline De Clercq, Celien Demets).
Poster about the Christus-Koning parish in Aarschot (Yann Courouble, Rani De Backer, Timothy Ghyssaert).

From Meadow to Consecrated Ground

Drawing (1961) and historic photograph (ca. 1966) of the Saint Pius X church in Wilrijk, architects Paul Meekels en Lode Wouters, 1961 (Parish archive of Heilige Pius X in Wilrijk).


“The existential purpose of building (architecture) is […] to make a site become a place, that is, to uncover the meanings potentially present in the given environment. “

Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, London: Academy editions, 1980, 18.

Sacred places are generally known as extraordinary sites that are set apart from daily reality and normal time. Architecture has the potential to revive the poetic dimensions already present in a place. My research, however, reverses this conventional conception of a sacred place. Rather than analysing exceptional locations, I examine how somewhat trivial sites obtained sacred meanings.

During the international conference Genius Loci: Places and Meanings, I gave a presentation about one of such sites: the Saint Pius X Parish in Wilrijk, a municipality in the periphery of Antwerp. The Saint Pius X Parish was designed and built during the period of the Second Vatican Council. During this period, the ideas of the Roman Catholic faith on sacredness changed considerably. My presentation attempted to demonstrate that the design of this parish church encompasses different conceptual interpretations of sacredness.