Holy renovations: Adaptive re-use and dependent stakeholder opinion of converted church buildings
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With the ever increasing pace of socio-cultural change in contemporary society, one inevitable result is that some physical elements of the built environment fall into disuse or become redundant. One creative solution that has gained popularity in revitalizing vacant or derelict structures in urban areas is that of adaptive re-use. Adaptive re-use entails a reimagining of space in terms of both functional change and physical modifications while maintaining the original essence of the building. Although adaptive re-use is a process that can be applied to a variety of situations, one very distinct case is that of church buildings. Churches stand as a unique case of adaptive re-use because they are much more multi-faceted than the average building, fostering strong emotional attachments and acting as historic symbols for norms, values, and moral codes. In relation to the re-use of churches, the debate over what is appropriate in terms of both functional and physical change has been dominated solely by religious authorities. This paper seeks to highlight how a more community oriented approach to development projects involving spaces of elevated social significance can benefit from consulting actual end-users. Using redundant churches as an example of how socio-cultural aspects of adaptive re-use are overlooked, a survey was distributed to 124 participants in the Netherlands asking their opinion regarding the favorability of twelve examples of functional re-uses for church buildings and four issues dealing with potentially problematic physical modifications particular to the adaptive re-use of churches. In order to better understand how different groups perceived such proposed changes, the relationship between personal characteristics (religiousness, age, education, length of residence, and gender) and their attitude toward church re-use was tested through regression analyses and analysis of variances. The majority of dependent stakeholders favored functions that were close to the original mission of the church and those which involve more socially meaningful events. For physical modifications, issues of demolition and alterations to the exterior were the most strongly opposed by respondents. In terms of influential characteristics, religiousness and age were both significant predictors of opinion toward favorability of church re-use, with older and more religious respondents holding definitively more conservative views. The results underscore the importance of the relationship of place-identity in the framework of neighborhood change and the need for increased sensitivity in adaptive re-use projects involving sites with additional social and emotional significance.