Church of Books
by Philip Jodidio
Though surely not as great a source of significant contemporary architecture as cultural institutions, places of worship — in one form or another — continue to generate invention and cutting-edge design. The reuse of places of religion for other purposes sometimes poses the problem of deconsecration, with the reticence some users may have when asked to dine or party in a former church.
One of the more successful of such recent initiatives is the Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore in Maastricht, Netherlands, by the architects Merkx + Girod, working within the former Dominican church of Maastricht, built in the 13th century.
Creating a Bookstore in a Church
Though it might seem unusual to turn a former church into a bookshop, this was the task asked of the architects by the Dutch booksellers Selexyz. The former Dominican church of Maastricht, originally part of a larger complex, was in fact no longer used for its original purpose after the French occupation of the region beginning in 1794, though the architecture retained its decidedly ecclesiastical, gothic appearance. Subsequent to 1910, the building served as a city archive, but it was also used for car shows, flower exhibitions, and boxing matches.
This was the third commission carried out by the architects for the Boekhandels Groep Nederland and the Selexyz brand. The client needed 1,200 square meters (13,000 square feet) of commercial space, while the floor of the church offered only 750 square meters (8,100 square feet).
The architects devised a monumental walk-in bookcase rising several levels on one side of the church, leaving the other side open to take advantage of the spatial qualities of the structure.
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This article is excerpted from Architecture Now! 6 by Philip Jodidio, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, Taschen.