In the last half of the 20th century church visits dwindle, and more and more churches fall into decline as church boards cannot afford the costs for maintenance and renovations. Some churches are torn down in the 60’s and 70’s, but resistance rises, not only from the communities themselves, but particularly from active neighborhood groups, for whom an important meeting place in their neighborhood is disappearing.
In the 80’s and 90’s the restoration and reuse of churches is one of the main activities for our architect office. In this Joop van Stigt is the architect of restoration plans for the Westerkerk and the Oude Kerk, and are Joop and Andre both involved in the reuse of the Olofs Chapel on the Zeedijk. Also in that period Andre is making plans to reuse the Vondelkerk, the Posthoornkerk and the Gerardus Majellakerk.
Respect for the spacial design and construction of churches and the architectural and cultural historical quality of the building is key. Together with the client a fitting function is searched for, continuing the public character of the church, and the role it plays in the urban community as place for meetings and reflection. To do this, the architect has to ‘read’ the building carefully, analyze the qualities of the original design, and consider the possibilities in construction and in use. The existing structure is respected where possible, while a public function is searched for the large open space, that is common to all churches.
The Posthoornkerk (Post Horn Church, 1863) is the first Neo-Gothic church Pierre Cuypers designed in Amsterdam. It was built because its predecessor of the same name, a ‘hidden church’ on the Prinsengracht, had gotten too small and was in very bad condition. In 1963, after a hundred years, the Posthoorn church was threatened by the changing times. Catholic churches in the area all came under the council of City Church, which planned to tear down some of its churches (among which the Posthoorn), to build homes for the elderly. The neighborhood put up a public resistance to these plans.
The rescue of this church is mainly due to the active involvement of neighbors and the community centre Gouden Reael, where Andre van Stigt is chairman for many years. Plans to establish a social-cultural centre fail, as the county is not prepared to contribute many extra millions, because they want to build social housing on the spot. A special foundation De Posthoornkerk is established, which will function as client for the restoration and reuse-plans.
As before with the restoration of the Vondelkerk, Andre van Stigt made plans for the Posthoornkerk, which respect the original character of the building; the dimensions in a Cuypers church are vital. The goal was to keep the cost for the restoration as low as possible, so that the amount of exploitable space that needed to be added could be kept to a minimum. The transept, choir and a large part of the midship were kept open as public space and is used for exhibitions, manifestations and shows. In the side galleries, in three levels, work spaces were added, with extra windows, floor heating and basic necessities as toilets, pantries and electrical installations. A cellar was dug out underneath the whole building, necessary to restore the foundation, but mainly to add cheap space in an invisible way. The new internal facades, doors and windows and other elements were kept visually separate from the existing structures, in a different design and color.
The renovation was intensive, which caused many discussions. In the end monumental caretakers, neighbors and the experts all agreed that the transformation had been a success.
As with the Vondelkerk the powerful and dominant architecture of Cuypers proved capable of withstanding a clear, unambiguous transformation.