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transformation of St. Martin's church in Burcht (BE) to a community centre


The Sint-Martinus church in Burcht is a beacon visible from afar in the river landscape to the west of Antwerp. The church stands like a solid fortress right on the Scheldt and separates the village from the river and the church square from water, greenery and panoramic views. The difference between the two sides of the church, between views and seclusion, the vast industrial landscape around the river and the intimacy of the village, gives Burcht its charm and character. Our design proposal is inspired by the important role the church building plays for the village community and the charm of its unique location.

site:Sint-Martinuskerk, Burcht, Zwijndrecht (BE)
design, date:2021- 2023, building application 2022
realisation in phases:2022- 2025
competition:1st price, Open Oproep 4004, 2021
client:municipality of Zwijndrecht (BE)
consultant conservation :Sabine Okkerse
consultant structure:Vestad
consultant technical installations:Vörtgang

Adding instead of altering

To transform the church into a contemporary and inclusive meeting place, we opt for a few simple additions outside and inside the church. The interventions are visible, efficient, and reversible and combine technical, spatial, functional, and symbolic improvements. By adding instead of altering, almost the entire church building, and many details and elements are preserved. The church is transformed into an inviting, versatile space for everyone.

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In the pre-war situation, there was a detached building next to the church, the popular café 'Engel'. The design is intended as a revival of this neighbourhood function, ensuring social cohesion and public visibility on the square. Paul Klee's reading or 'forgetful' angel served as an illustration.
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the extension on the square

Facing outwards: two extensions

We add two extensions on either side of the building. With their sloping roofs, the extensions present themselves as light and elegant extensions of the side aisles of the church. They are both spatially identical but perform different tasks.

The square building serves as vestibule, information point and reception area. The extension opens up the closed side façade of the church and acts as a lantern on the square, especially at night.

The extension on the river side serves as an informal café, a meeting place and as an entrance area for those entering the church from the water side. The new extension helps to transform the beautiful, green Scheldt Garden into a festive place with great appeal in all seasons at all times of the day.

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the extension on the river side
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Turning inwards: a balcony

In the interior, a new U-shaped mezzanine provides the intended atmosphere and functionality. We see this balcony as an integrated "space machine" that provides technical, spatial, functional, acoustic and atmospheric improvements with a single gesture. The major intervention is completed by locally added paneling, front windows and floor elements that facilitate new use.

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New use:

The nave of the church remains a large, uninterrupted multifunctional space, suitable for numerous activities such as large and small gatherings, performances, concerts and (food) festivals. Under the new balcony there is room for exhibitions, a folding grandstand, a bar and storage rooms. The space on top of the balcony will become a community library and will serve as a viewing platform. The various tower rooms will be converted into spaces to be used as office or for workshop and rehearsals. The former choir will be closed off with a light partition wall, whose design is inspired by traditional choir screens, and transformed into a room for reflection.

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The tribune is optional and can be added in the future (image competition entry)

Old and new:

The planned interventions will remove as much as possible of the Christian symbolism from the church and, through the choice of balanced colours and natural materials, will bring about a change of atmosphere. At the same time, the spaciousness and materiality of the existing church space will remain intact as much as possible. The restoration of the stained-glass windows will be investigated further. The existing Stations of the Cross, a series of colourful reliefs made by a local artist, will be moved to the transept if technically possible and hidden behind a number of movable shutters as part of an acoustic paneling in wood.