Adaptive reuse is one of the most discussed topics around architecture today and it is natural to be so given the general context of a limited territory challenged to fit the continuous growth of the built environment. 

It is common sense to understand that a finite surface cannot support an infinite expansion, that’s why future development has to make the most out of the already used territory before “wasting” any additional square meter of it. As some can reuse old-fashioned objects and repurpose them in order to value what’s already at their disposal, so can buildings that are no longer used be reintegrated into the life of their community, yet with a few changes. 

These changes vary from project to project but the common ground for each of them is changing the functionality of the building. It is no rocket science to figure out that if one building was abandoned it is most probably because it no longer served a purpose, thus the need for a fresh one. 

There are, however, some types of buildings that raise quite a lot of polemics. Needless to say, it is about religious architecture. Besides their obvious symbolic dimensions, such sacred spaces are, after all, buildings meant to serve their communities and although it may sound cynical (perish the thought), they too occupy a certain area in the built environment. So why not reintegrating them into their communities when abandoned or even ruined? 

5 Case Studies | Sacred Space

Although it may be disappointing for some of the readers, the article does not seek to answer this question, rather open the debate whether or not interventions on religious buildings are welcomed. Below there is a selection of five diverse approaches for rejuvenating “forgotten” sacred spaces.

Case Study 1: Santa María de Vilanova de la Barca 

The first case study is Santa María Church in Spain, Lleida. The project dealt with the remains of the Old Church of Vilanova de la Barca -a 13th-century Gothic church that bears the marks of the bombing during the Spanish Civil War. 

In order to make it, once again, part of the community, the former church was turned into a multi-purpose hall. If we are to think, churches are about gathering people around. This is the very card played by AleaOlea architecture & landscape: getting the community together.

Adaptive reuse of sacred space - Sheet1
Santa María de Vilanova de la Barca_©Adrià Goula, AleaOlea architecture & landscape, ©

Case Study 2: Anneliese Brost Music Forum | Sacred Space

Churches are also well known for their unique acoustics. Maybe that is the reason why most of the adaptive reuse projects on churches consider turning them into concert houses. This is rarely seen as an “invasive” transformation as it is the case of Anneliese Brost Music Forum. 

The former church was turned into a foyer, whereas the extensions flanking it are two concert halls of different sizes, aiming to offer more versatility in terms of use. 

Adaptive reuse of sacred space - Sheet5
Anneliese Brost Music Forum_©Brigida González, Bez+Kock Architekten, ©

Case Study 3: Tas’s Church 

Another common approach is turning abandoned religious spaces into residences. Tas’s Church in Sopuerta, Spain is one such example of adapting a former 16th-century church to answer the needs of a home. 

Religious architecture can indeed be understoodin a symbolical wayas houses of God. Therefore, their after use as mere residences should not be thought of as an accident, but an articulation of their very meaning.

Adaptive reuse of sacred space - Sheet2
Tas’s Church_©Carlos Garmendia Fernández, Garmendia Cordero Arquitectos, ©

Case Study 4: St. Odulphus Church 

The only case study that proposes to work with the idea of a church seen as a spiritual place is St. Odulphus Church proposal. The former church was no longer used by the community; therefore, a new use of the building was required. 

The design team together with the local stakeholders decided on converting the humble simple nave church in Booienhoven (Belgium) into a columbarium, thus valuing the sacred quality of the place. 

Adaptive reuse of sacred space - Sheet3
St. Odulphus Church_©, ©

Case Study 5: Kaos Temple | Sacred Space

If you think any of the case studies presented before are “controversial”… check this one out. In Llanera (Spain), a local 100-year-old church was turned into an indoor skate park. Although not so much about architecture, the intervention in itself, the project simply provokesto use but a few words. 

Questionable or not, the new function gatherers people around it and sparks a sense of community especially among the teenagers in the areawhich can be regarded as a fair deal.

Kaos Temple_©Okuda San Miguel,, ©
Kaos Temple_©Okuda San Miguel,, ©

It is obvious, after all, that future development has to be extremely cautious with the available territory the planet provides us with. Adaptive reuse is about the effective use of what is already there, saving time, energy, and more often than not even money. 

Many architects grew with the idea they have to build something of their own, that represents their individual vision, ability, and “signature.” However, architecture is rarelyor should beabout showing off what a particular architect can do, rather the opposite. Architecture should be about the people, the community, and their unique places. 

Having said this, it is in the architects’ hands to make the most out of the already built instances out there. Even when it comes to abandoned religious edifices, architects have to put all their efforts on the table and make a virtue of these buildings’ symbolic meaning.



Ștefan is a resourceful and professional young architect. Thirsty for innovation and knowledge, he is always willing to share his passions with the ones around. He finds himself intrigued by the tinniest of wonders and considers words just another material to build up with endless, brand-new possibilities.