Conversion instead of demolition

Despite all efforts, space for living or education remains a scarce commodity in big cities. The following three projects show how the remodeling of a church, the repurposing of an existing office building, and the conversion of a 1970s office and parking garage helped to make new space usable.

Sep 12 2022

Maastricht: One of the most beautiful bookstores in the world

The fact that churches are being converted is not new. Declining members often lead to the closure and sale of individual places of worship. In Maastricht, however, things were different: the church, completed in 1294, served as a monastery church of the Dominican order until it was expropriated by French troops in 1796. Since then, the church housed the Maastricht city archives for many years, served as an exhibition hall for flower and car shows, as a boxing arena, and finally as a spacious bicycle parking garage.Since fall 2006, Maastricht has been home to what is probably one of the most impressive bookstores in the world, the "Dominicanen" bookstore. The conversion was realized by the Amsterdam architectural firm Merkx + Girod. © Roos Aldershoff

Between 2002 and 2006, the venerable building was completely renovated and given a new lease of life: The former Dominican church became one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. The architects of the Amsterdam firm Merkx + Girod placed an oversized walk-in bookcase in the center of the "Dominican" bookstore, thus almost doubling the available floor space. Despite this massive modification, the former sacred building regains much of its original character, which the previous 200 years of use had completely ignored. While the three-story bookcase occupies the right half of the church, the architects left the center and the left aisle free of larger fixtures, making it easier for customers to find their way around. The former priest's choir of the Dominican church now houses a café that invites visitors to linger and simply gaze in wonder.

The bookstore "Dominicanen" offers a wide range of books, music and a café. But even if you are not a book lover, you should have seen this place in Maastricht. © Roos Aldershoff

In the former priest's choir of the Dominican Church, you can sit down for a cappuccino or lunch in the "Coffeelovers" café of the well-known Maastricht city roaster Blanche Dael. © Roos Aldershoff

Düsseldorf: From the Thyssen Trade Center to "The Living Circle" residential complex

Turning offices into apartments is often said to be unprofitable. But the conversion of the Thyssen site in Düsseldorf shows that such a project can work and has many advantages. After giving up office use as the "Thyssen Trade Center" on Grafenberger Allee in Düsseldorf and four years of vacancy, 340 "affordable" rental apartments, a four-room daycare center for children and a retail space have been created on a site area of 21,500m². Where once thousands of people worked, today about 1,300 people have found a new home. 

Due to the unusual circular geometry, demolition of the Thyssen Trade Center was initially considered. However, in the design "The Living Circle" by Konrath und Wennemar Architekten Ingenieure, a distinctive spatial quality was developed for the new residential complex. © Manos Meisen, Düsseldorf; A. Hagemann, Düsseldorf
After only 20 years of office use, the existing building, which was built in 1991, could no longer be rented out as offices despite intensive marketing activities. Since the location in the city area was becoming increasingly popular as a residential location, the idea of converting it into a mixed residential quarter gradually emerged. The unusual circular geometry of the building was a challenge: however, the design by Konrath und Wennemar Architekten Ingenieure developed a distinctive spatial quality for the new residential complex, leading to the decision to convert rather than demolish. 
The deep ground-floor areas, where the refectory and IT used to sit, were cut back to make room for open spaces and tenant gardens. Every apartment on the upper floors received at least one suspended balcony. Because of the round shape of the building, all interior walls had to be straightened, and the one or two bathrooms per apartment required a total of about 7,000 so-called core drillings through the ceilings to accommodate the pipes that carry water upstairs and wastewater downstairs. But the effort was worth it: "The Living Circle" has created a modern residential complex in Düsseldorf that has become a new home for both young and older people, families as well as singles.

Formerly a place to work, now one to live and feel good: the former Thyssen Trade Center in Düsseldorf. © Manos Meisen, Düsseldorf; A. Hagemann, Düsseldorf

Hamburg: From 70s office and parking building to "Bogenallee Wohnen [+]"

When the location does not justify further investment in an office use, demolition is often the next option. But not in the case of the "Bogenallee Wohnen [+]" project in Hamburg. The 1974 office building in the Harvestehude district, directly in the vicinity of the university, was converted into high-quality condominiums. In order to meet the requirements of the future residents, the floor plan was "individualized" by the architectural firm blrm Architekt*innen GmbH. Thus, 15 apartments of different types were created on four floors.  

The existing building was dismantled down to the shell. The existing underground garage was well preserved, so that the access ramp only had to be replaced by a car elevator. An additional staircase also allows access as two-flats to four apartments per floor. The ground-floor apartments are fronted by a courtyard-side patio. The apartments on the upper floors have generous balconies facing the inner courtyard and additional living space, the flex boxes, facing the Bogenallee. These special elements take over a room extension of the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom; there is room for the sauna, the bathtub and the dining table. These boxes give each apartment its specific appearance in the facade facing Bogenallee. In addition, a facade was developed that holds the different apartments and boxes together via a strong identity.

The conversion of a 70s office and parking building into 15 condominiums in the heart of Harvestehude was realized by the architectural firm blrm Architekt*innen GmbH. © Christian Schaulin

The project "Bogenallee Wohnen [+]" is located in an attractive urban environment on a cul-de-sac in the inner courtyard of Bogenstraße in Hamburg. © Christian Schaulin

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