Large churches in Dutch city centers are increasingly used for general social purposes: fairs, concerts and events, instead of their religious purpose. How to make an ancient monument in a respectful yet contemporary manner suitable for this modern use? APB (Pepijn Bakker Architects) designed a cloud pavilion in the Saint John’s church in Schiedam to concentrate all the new facilities, meanwhile adding new spatial quality to the church.
The church is the largest and oldest church in Schiedam and contains numerous art treasures collected over the centuries. Highlights include a consistory whose walls are upholstered in gold leather, a pulpit with fine carvings, glass stained windows and an organ in Baroque style.
Inspired by the craftsmanship of past ages, the new pavilion will be realized using ‘21st century craftsmanship’, such as computer controlled milling and 3d printing.
The architects have chosen the cloud’s shape because it’s neutral and recognizable while at the same time very exciting to experience. Its free form appeals to the same boundlessness and immensity of the surrounding church. It evokes an experience similar to Immanual Kant’s sublime experience, that he described after entering the St. Peter’s Church in Rome: ‘For there is here a feeling of the inadequacy of -the visitor’s- Imagination for presenting the Ideas of a whole, wherein the Imagination reaches its maximum, and, in striving to surpass it, sinks back into itself, by which, however, a kind of emotional satisfaction is produced.’
The space below the cloud becomes much more flexible in use. The glass wall on the church side and the gate on the choir side are air-tight, so the pavilion can be used for numerous individual meetings without being bothered by the cold and noise of the Church. By moving the coffee bar to a new place, the room can be used more freely. The bottom of the cloud is flat. Here the ventilation openings, lighting armatures and heating panels will be placed.
A staircase leads visitors from the coffee area to the roof. Here they may enjoy the view over the church. Visitors can learn more about the history of the church by reading the panels in the balustrade.
The pavilion will be built around the existing steel beams that support the current roof of the coffee room. By doing this, the ancient wall columns and floors will not be greatly affected.
The design is made in a closed design competition. The organizer, St. John’s Church foundation in Schiedam decided after four months of deliberation that it does not wish to realize any of the two submitted designs, notwithstanding the ambition to modernize the church with modern means.
APB regrets the outcome of the competition. “This was a unique opportunity to create a respectful, yet contemporary addition to the church building. But the challenge to add meaningful 21st century pavilions to churches remains. Hopefully we can realize this concept somewhere else” says architect Pepijn Bakker.