Holland is to church architecture what Florida is to subprime real estate. The Dutch God industry has been gutted, and the country now faces a vexing problem of demand: too many houses of worship, too few people willing to fill them.
One smart solution could be to do what Zecc Architects and Thomas Haukes have done: turn the vacant buildings into chichi townhouses (deluxe real estate being a sort of religion of its own among the moneyed set). In Utrecht, the designers revamped a vaulting 19th-century brick church to resemble a hip Tribeca loft. Gone are the pulpits and the altars and the endless pews and the little old Dutch ladies worrying their Rosaries. In their stead, you’ve got bleached white walls and aggressively cool contemporary art — all arranged under a 46-foot-tall nave, the original 1911 stained glass windows throwing light just yonder.
Architects like to say that the greenest buildings are the ones that are already built. That certainly seems to be the case here. Zecc preserved the structure’s shell (and, thus, its embodied energy), but drastically altered the interior by adding what they call “a sculpture” — basically, a building within a building. There, they stowed the bedrooms, a study room, and a bathroom, ensuring that much of the structure’s heating and cooling are confined to a small space. It also gives the building some much-needed human scale. Neat as old churches are, you don’t really want to be reminded that God is watching you while you’re on the can.
All of which goes a long way toward saying that St. Jakobus Church is an excellent case study in how to adapt abandoned churches — which litter Holland, yes, but much of Europe, too — for the secular age. Now, for the exciting news: The church is for sale! Zecc Architecten built it on spec for the client Woonkerk XL, meaning that if you happen to live in Holland and you happen to have more money than God (we assume, we actually have no idea how much this thing costs), it can be yours for the taking. We’d happily buy it. Alms for the poor?
For more Co.Design coverage of Zecc Architects, go here.
[Photos by Frank Hanswijk courtesy of Zecc Architects]