The Space of the Book

[Images: By Roos Aldershoff].

A bookshop constructed inside a converted Dominican church in Maastricht has won an architectural interiors prize.

[Image: By Roos Aldershoff].

The project, by Merkz+Girod Architects, places “a two-story structure in black steel on one side, where the books are kept.” This “combination of book complex and church interior [was] deemed particularly successful” by the competition jury.

[Images: By Roos Aldershoff].

Of course, any commercial reuse of a religious structure comes with its fair share of controversy, but this particular renovation seems to do at least two things, each of which inspires something more interesting than outrage.
On the one hand, the project rescues and updates a gorgeous if programmatically obsolete building, thus keeping a certain spatial experience alive (whether or not you would ever have gone there to attend services). On the other hand, it achieves a weirdly ironic overlap in which two cultural spaces, both on the verge of extinction, at least in Western Europe – and I’m referring here to the Christian church and to the bookshop – come together to form a kind of last gasp for either entity.

[Image: By Roos Aldershoff].

It’s as if books, sensing that they are even now moving toward a curious state somewhere between resurrection and purgatory, have decided to retreat, repositioning themselves inside the stone vaults of a church – which happily welcomes these learned visitors – and there the books and the church embrace, like doomed friends all too aware of their age, biding their time together amidst the dust and sunlight until another renovation comes through.

(Originally spotted at Dezeen).

14 thoughts on “The Space of the Book”

  1. The notion of certain literary works being housed in a church could leave room for quite a bit of tension in the reader. Imagine pulling up a pew and pouring over an edition of “Waiting for Godot”.

    It is interesting to see where books are hiding these days but the argument of their eminent demise is very difficult to make. The automobile and computer face just as substantial (and abrupt) a threat from resource depletion. It could be the case that libraries and reading rooms will see a resurgence as the lights go out on energy starved technology.

    So where is the architecture of the subterranean raceway waiting to be entombed until stockpiles of oil are discovered on the moon? Or the lost continent of sun worshiping solar panels, tilting their illuminated faces toward all mighty Sol, generating warmth in their inner soul?

  2. What I really like about it is the new way in which you are experiencing an existing structure. Personally I would love to be up toward the vaulted ceiling atop the internal structure experiencing the space from that higher ‘heavenly’ vantage point. To see the vault spines and intersections up close and to look down at where the altar would have been is somewhat exciting to someone like me who grew up in the Catholic church experiencing it all from the forced vantage point of the ground.

  3. wow – fucking beautiful. although i had a bit of cognitive dissonance going on while i was looking at these wonderful photos and trying to read the text. i couldn’t get it out of my mind that i was viewing a library, not a bookshop. knowing it’s a bookshop doesn’t change it’s beauty, but definitely reduces it’s emotional or visceral impact somehow.

    but the best use of a church i’ve seen in a long time. i love the contrast of the black modern scaffolding with the old stone church. and i think bk’s observation that we now get to see this space from entirely unintended angles is brilliant.

  4. It reminds me a fantastic work in Barcelona, the library for the UPF university (, from Clotet+Paricio. Beautiful re-use of an old water deposit, a magnificent space. And also made me remember of the Beinecke Library in Yale, from SOM, about the dialog between the space and the volume inside. Nice things to see, and good references.

  5. It’s really beautiful, the architect gave space to breathe.

    On the other side, there is an ecological consideration. Heating and Lightning Bills?

  6. Nice project, and hopefully a great inspiration for many re-used churches to come.

    But I agree with deepstructure – the text would have only really resonated with me if it were a library.

    Don’t you think bookshops will survive a long time, as leather-bound issues of “the classics” become the next highbrow luxury collectible? Rich people have got to get sick of contemporary art at some point.

  7. What’s with all this books-must-surely-die stuff lately? First we shouldn’t store them (the ones that “nobody wants to read” anyway) and now for some reason the bookstore is going to die.

    Is the BLDGBLOG book making you feel weird? Pretentious or guilty or something? Something is up…

  8. Geoff wrote: “…and there the books and the church embrace, like doomed friends all too aware of their age…”

    Actually, more like the embrace of old enemies that have now both been vanquished by a new digital enemy.

    Recall Victor Hugo’s claim that the book would kill architecture (i.e. monumental, didactic church architecture). As books now slowly bleed to death, they return to the church they vanquished with a new sympathy and understanding.

  9. We have so many beautiful, stone churches in Montreal that no longer function as churches, but have somehow started to be converted into condominiums. I have not heard if any were lucky enough to have been converted into a library or bookstore. Anything would be better then a condo since no one can walk in any longer and truly appreciate the space as in the bookstore mentioned above. We also have old brick schools turning into condos as well as the old Christie Cookie factory. I’ve seen gorgeous 100+ year old banks turned into spas, hair salons and what not. Nothing is safe here, but at least they don’t get torn down and destroyed.

    Many years ago Mark Twain said, “(…) This is the first time I was ever in a city (Montreal, Canada) where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window. Yet I was told that you were going to build one more. I said the scheme is good, but where are you going to find room? They said, we will build it on top of another church and use an elevator. (…)” Mark Twain’s speech while in Montreal, The New York Times, December 10, 1881

    In the late 1990’s I was in an Atlanta, Georgia converted church that was transformed into a Goth night club. The top dance floor was called ‘Heaven’ and the basement dance floor ‘Hell’, I don’t recall if there was a middle ‘Purgatory’ level or not : )

    Here are 2 links to blog entries with images of some of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Many images are from photographs by Candida Höfer in her book entitled, Libraries.

    Hot Library Smut

    Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries

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