Church converted into magnificent bookstore

 Wp-Content Uploads 2009 07 Bookstore-Selexyz-Dominicanen-By-Merkxgirod-Architects-In-Netherlands
This breathtaking place is a former Dominican church that was converted into a new retail location for bookseller Selexyz Dominicanen. The architecture firm was Merkx+Girod. From Design Top News:
The store demanded 1,200 sq m of commercial area where only 750 were available.

The initial idea of the client to install a second floor within the church was rejected by the designers, because this would completely destroy the spatial qualities of the church. The solution was found in the creation of a monumental walk-in bookcase spanning several floors and situated a-symmetrically in the church. In doing so the left side of the church remained empty while on the other side customers are lead upstairs in the three- storey ‘Bookflat.’

The ground floor gives room to several different book displays, information desks, magazine-stands and cash registers, all made of standard sheet materials in different colours and surfaces.
Merkx+Girod Architects: Bookstore Selexyz Dominicanen in Netherlands (Thanks, Lindsay Tiemeyer!)

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  1. It’s good to know that churches don’t always have to remain houses of ignorance. It’s certainly a breath taking location for a bookstore though.

  2. Now that’s an impressive melding of ancient and modern.

    Nice to see that it was the client (not the designer) who insisted on saving the building.

    Good work all around.

    coop

  3. Coop, I think you might have misread the article. The designers were the one’s who rejected the client’s initial idea of just sticking a second floor in the cavernous space.

    “The initial idea of the client to install a second floor within the church was rejected by the designers”

    The monumental bookshelf is an amazing solution to the design challenge and the space is wonderfully inspiring. Though I do wonder if the cost of the project and the cost of maintaining such a space will be financially viable for the bookstore in the long run. Books are not high-margin items, and such a space might encourage more browsing than buying. Perhaps that’s the idea behind the coffee bar in the last photo. Coffee and food might be their real business.

  4. @4 Coop “Nice to see that it was the client (not the designer) who insisted on saving the building.”

    don’t know how you are getting that from the article. the client wanted to divide the space horizontally – the designers proposed the solution featured.

    1. To Cromatose51.
      Looking at that beautiful Streling in Yale I could not but remember the historic library that USA-Bush stupid war destroyed in Irak, containing the history of civilization (paradoxically…)

  5. I visited that bookstore in March this year and took some (highly amateurish) pictures with my iPhone. You can see them on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/oriste/sets/72157616024411850/
    I especially like the view from the top bookcase looking out over the former choir, now the coffee corner, that’s quite dramatic.
    The “Dominikanerkerk” in Maastricht has lost its original function over 200 hundred years ago and has been used since then for a wide variety of alternative purposes: snake exhibitions, carnival parties, bicycle parking, esoteric gatherings, antique market, etc…

  6. It seems people have already said “best possible use for a church” and “walk-in bookcase!”, so all I can add is that the photographer has done the most amazing job at capturing the lighting there.

    The whole thing is absolutely beautiful.

  7. I like the use of the space, but wonder if something less modern might have been more appropriate.

    The steel and wire mesh just seem to clash with the stonework. Maybe more organic materials, like wood or rock (or even fake rock)… Just my opinion. At least they didn’t tear it down.

    The ultimate in recycling = reuse.

  8. Finally the vaulted heights meant to inspire awe can be applied to something worthwhile like human achievement and knowledge. All the decades of effort to construct the church is suddenly vindicated.

    Brilliant solution with rejecting the 2nd floor Merkx+Girod.

  9. Teresa and I were there in March of this year, with our Making Light co-blogger Abi Sutherland. It is if anything even more impressive than the photograph suggests.

  10. Yeah, I’ve spent a few afternoons in there. Great bookstore. Great coffee house, alas no wifi. Good selection of English language books too.

  11. I LIVE HERE, I LIVE HERE!!! like 5 mins walk from the bookshop. It looks bigger on the photos though. They do make a nice latté, too!

  12. Books deserve such reverent digs. I’m a tad disappointed that some folks are so mean-spirited and closed-minded as to stereotype churches as inherently worthless, though. Spiritual pursuits are worthy, too. It’s not all creepy priests and unremitting guilt.

  13. @23 wrote:

    > I’m a tad disappointed that some folks are so mean-spirited and closed-minded as to stereotype churches as inherently worthless, though. Spiritual pursuits are worthy, too.

    Well said.

    It’s great that books have such a great house to live in, but I dislike the casual anti-Christianity in such statements. I doubt that many folks who say such things about mosques or Jewish temples, but they feel that it’s acceptable to slag on certain religions in passing. Not very tolerant.

  14. @23, 24: Seconded.

    Not to mention it unfairly ignores serious contributions Christianity has made to art and literature. Fast example: the culture of medieval monasticism.

    I don’t support everything the church has represented and done, but it’s unfair to diminish what contributions they have made. It’s also a disservice to many to paint all of Christianity and its followers with the same brush.

  15. Man, I never get in on time to post an “in b4” comment. In this case, I was going to say “in b4 religion bashers”.

    Looks like I was right.

  16. Also, I do find it a tad ironic that people can bash the Church and yet love the *church* in the same breath. They did *something* right, after all, didn’t they, if this is so spectacular?

  17. and as an added bonus its one of the only places in maastricht where you don’t have to pay to pee!! its downstairs by the way…

  18. We could have a conversation about how the Church spent its money on magnificent cathedrals and the like, when it should have been spent on other things, but this isn’t the right thread for that. This is about the architecture.

  19. Look out for the secret passage in the back that leads to the special booby-trapped library where they keep a copy of the second volume of Poetics.

  20. Thanks to all, yes, I read it backwards. Must be having a dyslexic day.

    The outcome’s a win, and I tip my hat to the architects/designers who came up with it.

    coop

  21. I guess they did the best they could under the circumstances, but it’s sad to see a structure that was created for a specific purpose intended to last for hundreds of years end up as a store. Here in LA, we have a bookstore built in the hull of a grand old movie palace theater. I can’t help feeling sad every time I go in there and look up at the proscenium overhead. I’m sure this place would make me even sadder.

  22. Well if Lions hate enclosed spaces and as we all know, enclosed spaces denote the structure of the concious mind: might not lions roam freely throughout the hinterland of the subconcious?

    Aha! a secret passage. I KNEW IT!

  23. I got to the last picture in the set and my jaw literally dropped – the reading tables in the apse are amazing, beautiful, possibly sacreligious. Wow!

  24. Mojave,

    You first comment was veiled enough to pass, but let’s leave religion bashing out of this thread.

  25. Younger people seem to forget that cathedrals and traditions of worship are as important to preserve as products of our culture as books and paintings. And they are just as beautiful to admire. Kids tend to see things as black and white. The depth of culture that these things represent escapes them.

  26. Please don’t turn this thread into a forum for airing your cranky pet peeves about religion. Frankly, if you can’t enjoy something beautiful without picking a fight about it, you’re a pretty poor advertisement for your own philosophy.

  27. ..sad to see a structure that was created for a specific purpose intended to last for hundreds of years end up as a store.

    Actually, most churches and cathedrals (in the UK at least) served as dual purpose places-of-worship/town-centres. The parish church was often the place where people came to trade their produce or do normal town-going stuff.

    The reverence in which we hold churches, today, is often not the same (not more or less, just different) as they were held in back when they where in proper use. Imagine the silence of a church, punctuated by the squeal of livestock. So much more alive.

  28. @BCSIZEMO: I’m with you there. Steel gantries belong in factories, and really jar with the soft, beautiful curves of the space. It astonishes me that so many architects find them so appealing.

    It reminds me of the Vancouver City Square Mall (pics, pic background story). They took a beautiful granite and sandstone school building, and turned it into a shopping mall, complete with glass and steel gantries. While I’m glad the school wasn’t just torn down, it makes me sad to see it swallowed up like that.

  29. Ironically if it had been a Buddhist temple or a centuries-old Mosque that was converted into a place of commerce people would probably be bitching about the cultural insensitivity of the project.

  30. Some might see the steel as clashing or jarring, some might see it as a nice complement. I would have to see it in person to make up my mind. The thing about this kind of Gothic architecture like this is that it’s a delicate tension between between massive strength and ethereal airiness. An exposed steel skeleton might preserve that sense of space, but a bulky masonry box would wreck it. But of course, that’s all subjective…

  31. Quite brilliant place.

    It’s a shame there’s so many people visiting it (it’s rapidly becoming a victim to its own success)

  32. It astonishes me that so many architects find them so appealing.

    Once you’ve studied architecture, you tend to look at everything in terms of structure. Also, attempts to build ‘new’ in the same style as ‘old’ frequently look horribly Disneyesque.

  33. Brainspore, depends on who did it. If it was people from the same culture, perhaps not. They might say it’s sad, as some in this thread have done, but culturally insensitive? Not so much. It’s not like the Netherlands has been taken over by a people of a different religion than the people who built the church, unless you count their less-reverent descendants in that way.

    Also, I don’t know about Buddhist temples or Mosques, but there is a process for deconsecrating a church when it’s no longer used, so it can be put to secular use. And that process isn’t new.

  34. @45: Wouldn’t say so. I wouldn’t be outraged because Buddhist temples and Muslim mosques themselves are often quite flexible in what form they might take. I’ve seen temples and mosques plonked in warehouses, abandoned stores, whatever they can find.

    While I still have a deep love for Christian architecture, this approach, with its lack of emphasis on physical details, is refreshing.

    Re: the use of steel/metal in churches, I agree a more sensitive style could have been used. I distinctly remember a 19th-century church (French?) whose supports were a mix of iron and stone. The iron arches and columns was slender, curvy, and gentle, with leaf and vine motifs — the point of which was to prove that metal could serve architecture as well as engineering, and seem light and airy.

    I can’t remember the architect or the name of the church. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

  35. there is a process for deconsecrating a church when it’s no longer used, so it can be put to secular use. And that process isn’t new.

    Indeed, and as someone pointed out up-thread, this particular church has been deconsecrated for 200 years or more. In all likelihood, its previous uses were much less respectful of the space and the tradition that created it (carnival parties? snake exhibitions?).

    And in more direct response to Brainspore, it would be nice if you could find even a single example of the type of hypocrisy you’re decrying before you run around accusing the BB commenters of suffering from it.

  36. “Architects are the biggest poseurs in history. Just build what needs to be built.”

    Why do I suspect you know the price of everything but the value of nothing?

  37. It’s a beautiful use of this building, and far better than the bicycle storage shelter it was previously. What’s I love about it in particular is that you can climb the stairs to the top floor of the book shop and see the paintings on the roof as you would never have seen them previously. Maastricht is certainly a city I would recommend anyone who’s in the region to check out.

  38. While I’m always sad to see a church lose its original function, this has got to be the next best thing.

    Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

  39. To those who moan about animosity directed towards religion, consider the heinous subjugation and exploitation required to construct all these gorgeous monuments to utter dominion. The difference between such churches and the pyramids is mostly just one of scale. You can stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalala, but this issue is inherent to the subject of repurposing a church; there is a grimly obscene flipside to the beauty.

    To pretend otherwise is to forsake the countless victims of an all too worldly power structure revoltingly allowed to call itself divine.

    I’m only sorry it wasn’t turned into a public library rather than a bookshop.

  40. Frickin’ awful!

    Looks like that modular edifice from Half Life 2 that gradually encroaches on other buildings.

  41. I wanted to see how JEFTX (1st post) would do in a debate with a real theologian. He would certainly be the ignorant one in the debate.

  42. They took something beautiful and awe-inspiring, a celebration of the Divine on earth, and turned it into a graceless, ill fitting center for commerce. If they were going to build something else there, why did it have to be a store? And why such an ugly store that doesn’t have any aesthetic sympathy with its surroundings? A public library, a school, an art gallery, or a museum– something like that would have made a better fit, surely?

    Kimmo (Post #57) You DO know that medieval churches weren’t built by slave labor, right? I mean, you didn’t have cackling bishops whipping chain gangs while some monks banged away on a drum or something…

  43. The picture does not do it justice. I live in Eindhoven, reasonably close to Maastricht, and have visited quite a few times. Beautiful city with a beautiful bookshop, it even has an English language section! We used to worship god, now we worship commerce… fitting to blend the two here!

  44. It’s stunningly beautiful, but it breaks my heart to see a church being used in a way in which it was not intended.

  45. I just scanned the comments quickly, but I didn’t see anyone say what I first saw…

    It looks like the Jedi Archives!!

  46. @61: Economics?

    “A public library, a school, an art gallery, or a museum– something like that would have made a better fit, surely?”

    I find in similar cases I’ve encountered, the church was often first offered to the kind of institutions you mention — assuming the group selling the church wasn’t in desperate need of money.

    Sometimes only private agencies can afford to purchase, convert, and maintain such a building. I’m still surprised it’s a bookstore, since I thought most bookselling ventures had very slim profit margins, but then again I am not familiar with these particular outfit.

    (I’m going to assume you meant a public art gallery, since a private art gallery grounds itself just as much in commerce.)

    Why can’t commercial buildings be beautiful?

  47. ‘Kimmo (Post #57) You DO know that medieval churches weren’t built by slave labor, right? I mean, you didn’t have cackling bishops whipping chain gangs while some monks banged away on a drum or something…’

    Where did the wealth come from?

  48. for those people thinking it should be a museum or something: there are a LOT of museums in the Netherlands already. In Fact almost every church in the country can be visited or is used as something besides being church. A few months back i walked past one that was playing a ABBA musical :D complete with disco lights try the stained glass windows. The previous use of this church was bicycle parking. This has to be a step up!

    MaMaybe adadditionaloint: old buildings are really common over here, i lived in a student frat house that was in a building somewhere from the 1890’s and thats pretty common. I think the oldest building still in use here is from 1380something. (that is a museum although that has nothing to do with the building))

  49. In the UK and Europe, there are a number of indoor climbing gyms located in former churches, which, IMO is an awesome use for these structures. Few, however, quite preserve the original beauty of the churches as this bookstore has.

    (*I only know of the one in Dundee, as I’m by no means an avid climber, although I’m told there are many more)

    1. St.Werburgh’s Church in Bristol’s a good example. I’ve been climbing there a few times, and it gets really loud and echoey. Perhaps not the most amount of decorum the place has ever seen. But hey, if no-one’s going there for religious purposes, it’s a shame to let a good building go to waste. Re-use really is the best form of recycling.

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