Waanders Bookstore

Is it sacrilege? More important, does it have the latest Thomas Pynchon? The Antichrist?

Waanders Bookstore

The new Waanders In de Broeren bookstore operates out of one saintly locale.

Waanders Bookstore

Designed by Utrecht-based BK Architecten, the shop is located within the halls of the Broerenkerk, a Gothic cathedral that towers above the small Dutch town of Zwolle.

Waanders Bookstore

The design leaves the church's nave relatively untouched, occupied by a few tables and displays that generally preserve the sightline from the entrance and mammoth wood organ from the 1800s...

Waanders Bookstore

...to the colorful rose window at the opposite end.

Waanders Bookstore

The new wings are tucked into the church's one side aisle, where the architects inserted three floors of retail space.

Waanders Bookstore

Set behind a row of tall marble columns, these were installed independent of the church's structure so that they could be easily removed, if need be.

Waanders Bookstore

The retail zone is split down the middle by a central staircase that's framed directly in front of a north window.

Waanders Bookstore

The staircase creates a secondary focal point inside the church, apart, of course, from the rose window at its terminus.

Waanders Bookstore

Scale the stairs and you command privileged views up and down the length of the nave.

Waanders Bookstore

Opposite the large retail floors is a two-story gallery lined with bookshelves. This creates a border that helps delineate the shop from the worship space.

Waanders Bookstore

The architects stress that they deferred to the church's ascetic aesthetic, integrating the gleaming white walls and timber details into their design.

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A Dutch Bookshop Goes Goth, In A 15th-Century Cathedral

False idol or worthy of consumer worship? A new concept store in a church is as sensitive as a concept store in a church can be.

"Not much is really sacred," Bob Dylan raspily mourned, citing "flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark" and other choice bits of consumerism as evidence. And now, the Waanders In de Broeren bookshop is open for business inside a 15th-century cathedral.

In the small municipality of Zwolle just northeast of Amsterdam, the sprawling, self-avowed concept store and cafe inserts three floors in the church’s side aisle. Book showcases—new releases, perhaps the Dan Brown oeuvre—punctuate the central nave space of the Broerenkerk, a famed Gothic cathedral.

The design of the store, by Utrecht-based BK Architecten, was calibrated to preserve the church’s original architecture and ornaments, including its elegant ceiling paintings and an organ dating back to the early 1800s. To this end, the architects erected the shop’s structure independently of the Broerenkerk’s own, which is protected as a cultural heritage site.

"We wanted all the additions made to the church to be sober, in respect to the church, modest," the architects explain.

Such architectural considerations include, according to the architects, "three added floors placed in the side wing of the church between the original pillars, outside the central ship." The additions mean the store can be neatly evacuated from the church without incurring damages to the latter’s restored fabric.

In fact, tantamount to the architects’ design for the new store was their renovation of the Broerenkerk. They preserved many of the cathedral’s most compelling features, including its stark white walls, which influenced the shop’s overall sober aesthetic and also its general organization. The architects acknowledged the primacy of the nave and the visual axis it establishes from the entrance to the brilliant stained glass windows that anchor the opposite end. Accordingly, they packed most of the 700 square-meter-retail space into the side aisle, gently fenced in by a row of slender marble columns. A staircase at the aisle’s symmetrical center connects shoppers from the nave to the each of the upper three floors.

Twin bookshelves tucked just behind this stair feature climb the full height of the new additions. They represent a vertical element to the design and reinforce the centrality of the junction—the perfect point for visitors to take in closer views of the church ceiling and windows. The shelves aren’t stacked with books, but rather display promotional or higher-end wares. Opposite the nave, a new, two-story gallery elevates a long row of bookstacks, introducing a symmetrical echo that helps delineate the store’s boundaries.

Sure, it might perfectly embody the rampant commodification of all things and spaces. But the bookshop is sensitive to its sacred context, or at least as sensitive as a store in a church can be. Now, point me in the direction of Nietzsche’s Antichrist, please.

[Images: Waanders In de Broeren via Arch Daily]

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  • Adam Bond

    It’s not a cathedral, it’s merely a church. A cathedral is a church which also serves as a diocesan seat, the church where a bishop sits enthroned — hence “cathedra” which means chair. To say that it is a “cathedral” is to sound like an idiot America who thinks every church in Europe is a cathedral. “Oh, we went to Dresden this summer and saw all the cathedrals!” “No, no you didn’t, you went to Dresden which has one cathedral but a couple dozen churches. I hate to be a niggler, but this is one of those things that really peeve me, especially in journalists who should know better or at least check to see if they’re using the right terms.

  • My Global City

    Kristaps, I remember the book store in Maastricht - one of the best places in town for a coffee and read. Glad to hear it's still going! 

  • Kristaps Horns

    We have exactly the same concept in Maastricht, The Netherlands. It's Polare book store in the city centre that exploits exactly the same concept. If I remember correctly it was voted by Guardian as second most beautiful book store in the world, so your arguments in this article seem - well, quite ridiculous.

  • anjajessen

    Oh, stop it with the religious fervour and journalistic confrontationalism already. Alessandro has it right: We have too many churches. Maastricht's Selexyz Dominicanen http://inhabitat.com/gorgeous-... has won architecture prizes and in 2008 was named "Most beautiful bookstore in the world". And at the time I'm sure that was right.

  • Alessandro

    Actually that's quite common in Europe. In my (italian) hometown, my high school gym used to be a church. Even the local university library is built inside a church. We have too many churches.

  • Pierre-Bertrand Dufort

    The Broerenkerk never was a "famed cathedral" : it's a monastery church that was desacralized 30 years ago and has been used for cultural activities ever since.