Can a building dramatically change its exterior depending on external factors such as perspective, time of day or intensity of light? There are very few architectural works of this kind in the world, but each one always takes your breath away. One of these is the “transparent church”, which has been gracing the town of Borgloon in the Belgian province of Limburg for the past 10 years.
Who built the unconventional sanctuary in Belgium and why?
At first glance, it looks like an ordinary Catholic church with a pointed dome. But as soon as you change the angle, the extraordinary happens: the walls seem to slit open, allowing the sunlight to flood the space inside. There is no magic in this, though. The building is simply the result of a bold design and careful architectural calculation.
“Reading between the lines” is the development of the Gijs Van Vaerenbergh studios, which was founded by two aspiring Belgian architects Peterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh. It was they who designed and built this unusual transparent church.
This unique building was erected as part of the Z-OUT (‘Art in Open Space’) art project organized by the Hasselt art house Z33. The project aims to focus on contemporary architecture by emphasizing the close relationship between tradition and innovation. The founders themselves see the promotion of Belgian Art Nouveau architecture as a key objective of the project.
The special project with the symbolic title “Reading between the lines” was presented to the citizens of Borglawn and the municipality of Limburg on September 24th, 2011.
The exterior of the church has delighted both residents and experienced architects. From one perspective, the church looks like a typical bulky Catholic church with a pointed dome; from another perspective, it is an airy, lightweight building, which merges with its surroundings through a unique construction material mix.
Features of engineering and architecture
The church was designed in the image of traditional local sanctuaries, but thanks to the creative realization of the construction, the classic concept was transformed into an original object of modern art.
The name ‘Reading between the lines’ underscores the mysterious and unexplored nature of the church.
The main building material of the art object is steel plates, of which there are about 2,000 elements. All of them are arranged in a hundred layers. The 10-meter-high structure weighs 30 tons, so the architects decided to make the base of the transparent church out of armored concrete.
The voids between the plates, which are only a couple of centimeters thick, make the structure “float” so visitors can see through the walls and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding area.
Another interesting aspect of the church is the play of light and shadow, which is especially perceptible to the viewer when inside the building. During the day, the interior of the building changes according to the position of the sun and the direction of the sun’s rays in relation to it.
The most striking aspect of the church is the sunset when the sun is shining in rich colors over the horizon. From the outside, depending on the angle of view, the structure may appear three-dimensional and massive, but most often, it ‘blends in’ with its surroundings.
A Temple without prayer
This unusual transparent church does not perform the classic function of a temple. Not a single service has been held in it in the last ten years. Its main mission is to become an architectural heritage building, reflecting the true nature of the churches in this region.
According to the architects, the number of parishioners of the local churches is decreasing every year, and many of them are becoming abandoned and neglected. That means the future of Flemish churches could well be in the hands of a few talented artists.
The transparent church in the town of Borgloon, in the province of Limburg, is a major tourist attraction in Belgium. It looks completely different depending on the season, daylight hours, perspective, and weather conditions. The church looks especially fantastic and unrealistic at sunset and sunrise.
Perhaps the architects were guided by divine providence; after all, it is not for nothing that this building took the form of a church. When you look at such beauty, you can’t help but think of the divine and noble.