Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

About churches´ adaptive reuse

The first time I saw a project of dwellings in a church already deconsecrated, it caught my attention, but I thought, maybe it´s an isolated case. Up till now, I didn´t have a clue of how many churches (of different religions) were kept empty, without use for lack of funds or  because the specific sect or religion had changed the procedures for meetings, or simply because there are too many. So, it is better to sell them to be converted into a different use facility but of course, under severe restrictions.
I understand the typical ones, like ¨no alterations on the facade and style should be made,¨ or to keep the original style, but there´s another very important restriction: Relatives must have rights of access to visit the remains of the deceased. That´s a difficult task...

Even if it is deconsecrated, I would feel that the building has a kind of soul, I don´t feel that the masses and ceremonies can be removed from the building´s (the people´s ) memory just retrofitting the structure, and/ or adding partition walls, or changing interior colors.

An interesting article about this issue has been written by Philippe Ridet at

¨Dozens of computer displays have taken the place of the altar. The church of Santa Teresa in Milan was originally built in 1674, but closed for worship in the early 19th century. The city council purchased the building in 1974 and in 2003 it opened as a media library.
No one can tell how many there are. Neither the Catholic church nor the arts departments at various levels of government have seen fit to count them. But there are probably several thousand places of worship all over Italy which have been deconsecrated and sold. The permutations seem endless: here a bar or a country house, an artist's studio or a garage, there the head office of a bank, a library or function rooms. But sometimes a whiff of incense seems to linger, as if long after the last mass the spirit of the place still clings to the walls.
This may be yet another sign of the hard times on which the church has fallen and Italy's increasingly secular society. But that is not what prompted the Milanese photographer Andrea Di Martino to set up his camera at the entrance to a series of ex-churches. Much as for a passport photograph, he adopted exactly the same angle for each picture: the effect is striking yet poetic, "an encounter between an umbrella and a sewing machine".
Andrea Di Martino is preparing a book with his series ¨The mass is ended.¨ In the following link, you can see the gallery:
Then, I have been reading another article by a real state company in UK, that explains:
¨A recent survey conducted on the website found that church conversions were the most popular choice among users for a converted living space, with 60% preferring to live in a converted building rather than purpose built accommodation. The survey brought to light some worrying issues also, with church conversions listed among the worst buildings in terms of value and layout. Bear in mind then, that a church conversion is not carte blanche to an exotic, original living style, but that each one must be assessed on its individual merits just like any other property.
Increasingly, cash strapped ecclesiastical bodies are selling off more and more churches. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says that in the last 5 years around 500 London churches have been turned into homes. There is no need to jump to the conclusion that the entire country has completely lost its faith. The Victorians have a lot to answer for, apparently they simply built too many - even in their time the churches were half-full but, with money pouring into post-industrial Britain, the building went on unabated.

(...)  if you wish to undertake your own church conversion there are a variety of ways to go about this:

  • Anglican Churches - Closed churches are described by the Church of England as those no longer required for public worship and thus formally closed under church legislation (the Pastoral Measure of 1983). The aim of the Pastoral Measure is to find alternative uses for those churches in order to avoid their demolition and preserve our national heritage - conversion into housing is just one such alternative use. The Church of England publish a list of closed churches which you can see here.
  • Methodist Chapels - In the last 75 years, somewhere in the region of 8,000 Methodist chapels have been closed. There are presently around 100 or so scattered across the UK but with a greater concentration in Cornwall, where the sect was most popular. Many of these were constructed in the 19th century and being smaller than Church of England churches are more suitable to conversion as a single home. 
  • Buildings at Risk - If you have an excess of time and money and want to take on a really spectacular project then you might want to check out the Save Buildings at Risk register at

That´s good that this site highly recommends the buyer to hire a specialist architect to deal with the City planners and to design with respect and experience in  architectural conservation.

In this video, the reporter says that the Americans are the main market for deconsecrated churches converted into houses. It seems that they consider them as the best expression of Italian art.

REFERENCE for pictures above: Andrea Di Martino

Jakob Culture Church today hosts concerts, poetry and opera after being de-consecrated in 1985. From 

An architect that is required to work in ¨adaptive reuse¨ of a church, maybe confronted with a dilemma. Let´s learn more:

¨In most instances, adapting a house of worship to a secular purpose, a measure that in some denominations requires a deconsecration ritual, is the only way to save the building from demolition.
''I personally think it is too bad that so many churches no longer fulfill their original functions, but it is wonderful that we are creative enough to find new functions that will enable them to stay alive and healthy,'' said William J. Higgins, a partner in Higgins & Quasebarth, a preservation consulting firm that did a historical analysis for the St. Peter's project. ''I would rather see the character of the space used as an asset than to obliterate it. If a church becomes an interesting place to socialize, dine, exercise, why not?''
Adaptive reuse, as the process is known, can be daunting. ''These buildings do not lend themselves to easy conversions,'' said Ken Lustbader, who was the director of the New York Landmarks Conservancy's Sacred Sites program until last month. ''It is an expensive proposition to divide up sanctuary space, deal with the placement of floors, windows, electricity, plumbing, wiring.''
In addition, Mr. Lustbader went on: ''It is a more challenging conversion to go from soaring sanctuary to studio apartment. Convents, schools and parish houses lend themselves much more to compatible adaptive reuse, but they do not have the spectacular architectural details.''
Stephen B. Jacobs, an architect, balked when he was asked to design apartments for the alteration of the All Angels Church, a English Gothic-style Episcopal church on the West Side, about 18 years ago . ''I said to the rector, 'Would you sell Westminster or Coventry?' and I told the client, 'I can't rip out the inside of such a wonderful building,' '' he recalled. ''It was sold to a developer who tore it down.''
''A year later,'' he continued, ''another client came to me about another church, and this time I said, 'I'm going to do it.' '' The result was the conversion of the Greek Revival Village Presbyterian Church on West 13th Street into a 15-apartment co-op called the Village Mews Housing Corporation but more commonly known as ''the church.''

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