“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]