Materiality and Immateriality of neglected historical churches: preservation and adaptive reuse

Supplementary Files



Spirit of Place
Atmospherological Aesthetics


One of the more controversial topics about the preservation of disused historic buildings regards how to ensure them a sustainable future. This question is especially problematic respecting the increasing stock of worship places, like churches, fallen into disuse, closed or abandoned. The recognition and the safeguard of tangible and intangible values associated with them raise many debates on how these buildings should be protected and handed down to the future, complying with the community’s current needs concurrently. Should there be limits on reusing former worship places? Given the changing meaning of sacredness over time, how should ‘sacred values’ of disused church buildings be recognized and maintained? Can they be preserved adapting churches for new purposes? What about the building’s atmosphere? Should it be retained? Should it be adapted to the building’s new use?

These and other questions, even involving the socioeconomic sphere, notably mark the field, given that the number of disused historic and modern Christian church buildings is still increasing throughout the West. Gathering different orientations and practices ranging from the historic preservation up to the building refurbishment, the so-called ‘adaptive reuse’ of buildings has been becoming more and more often habitual within Western countries even for disused worship places. Conversions of former churches according to this trend are differently valuable from a preserving perspective, since they have often implied remarkable changes to the building’s identity and integrity, even compromising the recognition and the safeguard of intangible values associated with. How should new uses be chosen, so that they do not endanger tangible and immaterial attributes of church buildings? Is the adaptive reuse the most suitable strategy in order to approach all the cited issues?

Providing a brief overview on what the adaptive reuse of Christian church buildings fallen into disuse methodologically consists of, the study aims to suggest some answers to the mentioned questions, resorting to last specific international recommendations and guidelines. The prime limits and implications of the adaptive reuse of these buildings have been thus profiled regarding the preservation of tangible and intangible values they involve, concluding that only values centered preserving approach can provide a valid framework to face the challenge of the increasing redundancy of worship places.


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