Laurens Church, a monument filled with stories
The Large or Saint Laurens Church in Rotterdam hosts the first permanent exhibition of its kind in the Netherlands, courtesy of Kossmann.dejong. Entitled Laurens Church, a Monument Full of Stories, the exhibition serves to bring the turbulent past of the church to a wider public.
Amsterdam-based event architects Kossmann.dejong (Herman Kossmann and Mark de Jong) applied their characteristic methods to the project, combining various disciplines and media to create a multi-sensory experience. The aim of the project is to present the rich and varied history of the Laurens Church in a uniquely different way, and to arouse curiosity in the visitor about the legends behind this monument. Due to the bombing of Rotterdam during the second World War, many people don’t realize the city had a rich history before the coming of its modern buildings. When the St. Laurens Church was rebuilt after the war, it didn’t have the same charm as before. Thanks to this exhibition, the church’s charisma is restored.
Laurens Church, a Monument Full of Stories isn’t an exhibition in the traditional sense of the word, as the history of the building itself is presented instead of a selection of artefacts. “The layout has added a new layer to the church’s modest reconstruction architecture,” says Herman Kossmann. “It has not become an exhibition in the space, rather the space has become the exhibition.” Kossmann.dejong’s design for the church is based on stories about the building which have been collected over five centuries. These stories create a bridge between the original layout of the church and modern objects and multimedia presentations on show that serve to inform both tourists and the inhabitants of the city.
The ten chapels of the church have been designed to illustrate a specific theme, each one with a different approach and feel. These themes represent a part of the Laurens Church and the city of Rotterdam, speaking of the past, life and death, about the bombing of the city and its rebuilding, and about the silence of the city. In one chapel, walls are adorned with illustrations that surround a modern version of scriptures. While another simply shows a mirror with the words ‘I will live’ and ‘I will die’ alternating in neon letters.
The chapel of statues shows the various icons of the catholic church and the chapel of candles lights up with hundreds of LEDs when a prayer candle is lit. An accompanying audio book – narrated by different voices – complements the exhibition, highlighting some of the stories with more detailed information. Likely not all is revealed: with such a long history, no doubt some legends of the church will stay buried as mysteries. The exhibition was inaugurated by HRH the Prince of Orange on 10 September 2010.
What is it?
The Laurens Church is one of the oldest buildings in Rotterdam. For many centuries the church has been a religious center, but it also played a key role in public life. This is still the case nowadays. The building is used for religious services but also for readings, debates, concerts and other cultural activities.
In the constantly changing city of Rotterdam the Laurens Church is one of the few buildings that has a visible reference to the past. After the bombings in the Second World War the centre of Rotterdam had completely disappeared, except for the ruins of the Laurens Church. In the 1950’s the church was completely rebuild, but many of the historical and narrative layers disappeared. Our task was to design a permanent exhibition that manifests the stories of the Laurens Church, but at the same time leaves room for the other activities and respects the church as a monument. The design for the exhibition is based on stories that are embedded within the building. By touching essential themes that show the church as a spiritual place, as the heart of the city and as a witness of history, the exhibition manifests different layers of meaning. The exhibition is not traditional because there is no historical collection displayed. Instead stories and events are depicted and presented to the visitors.
What was the challenge?
The starting point for the exhibition design was the church as a place of memories. The building was the reason for the exhibition but also functions as the physical carrier of stories.
We decided to limit the exhibition to the chapels. The only visible additions include visual elements and murals. The characteristic white walls remain visible. The nave of the church remains free, so all other activities in the church can take place. Within this concept the exhibition design respects the existing architecture of the church.
The atmosphere in the church will benefit from silence. Both sounds of construction and dismantling of events in the church and sounds of construction outside the church are disturbing. Sound that is generated by the exhibition would also be disturbing to churchgoers. As stories and oral history are an important part of the exhibition, visitors will receive a specially developed audio book and headphones to be able to listen to the stories. That way the exhibition does justice to the building and illuminates and offers a deeper understanding of its stories to visitors, while normal events can still take place.
With this exhibition design we were able to bring back stories to an existing monument. This way different perspectives and forgotten stories that belong to the church and the city of Rotterdam become visible again and are brought to the attention of a broad and present-day audience.
The monumental status of the building remains intact and its normal activities can still take place. The historic value of the building is not affected by the exhibition and is even enhanced by adding new narrative layers. We were able to add historical and narrative layers without using a physical museum collection but by designing new installations and an audio book. The result is an exhibition in which the various chapels tell stories about different aspects; the past and the present, life and death, the city’s bombing and its reconstruction as well as its silence. By bringing back stories, history becomes tangible.
A specially developed audio book in the shape of a bible, which is handed out to every visitor at the entrance of the exhibition, raises questions and invites visitors to in-depth exploration. Historical facts are incorporated in the book as text. Sixty-one stories, which are included in the book as audio stories show different perspectives of the church’s history. By combining text and audio stories a distinction between knowing facts and experiencing stories becomes clear. The exhibition is build up in a way that the design in the themed chapels and the audio book interact with each other. The themed chapels stimulate visitors to ask questions, while the audio book gives inspiring answers through background information and stories.
In the Netherlands never before such a project was carried out in a church or monument. Our design has added a new layer to the church’s modest reconstruction architecture. This way of exhibition design is a completely new way to give monuments a second life as carriers of history. Finally it has not become an exhibition in the space; rather the space has become the exhibition.
Kossmann.dejong’s characteristic way of working has made the eventful histories of the St. Laurens church and the city of Rotterdam come to life for a wide audience. Never before did a Dutch church end up with a permanent display like this. The exhibition was inaugurated by HRH the Prince of Orange on Friday 10 September.
Church filled with stories: a new layer of meaning:
The design of the exhibition in the Laurens church is based on stories that are embedded within the building. Five centuries of history are the source: from the city’s foundation, through the centuries up to the future. It is not a traditional exhibition, as there is no collection to display. Stories and occasions are depicted and presented instead. It has turned into a contemporary multimedia show that does justice to the building and that illuminates and offers a deeper understanding to both the Rotterdam community and the city’s tourists.
Each chapel its own theme:
The church’s chapels host distinct themes that are all related to the Laurens church and the city of Rotterdam. Each chapel has its own theme and form and content are always subject-specific, thus each chapel is different. The result is an exhibition that lets the walls speak about the past and the present, about life and death, about the city’s bombing and its reconstruction as well as its silence.
‘The layout has added a new layer to the church’s modest reconstruction architecture. It has not become an exhibition in the space, rather the space has become the exhibition’, says Herman Kossmann, one of the two founding partners of Kossmann.dejong.
Food for thought:
The exhibition design raises questions and invites to in-depth exploration. A specially developed audio book that will be handed out to every visitor at the entrance of the exhibition, explains and gives detailed information through various people’s voices. The chapels stimulate people to ask questions, while the audio book gives inspiring answers through suggestions and stories.
About – Laurens Church:
The church was built between 1449 and 1525. In 1621 a wooden spire was added to the tower, designed by Hendrick de Keyser. Poor quality of its wood caused the spire to be demolished in 1645. A stone cube was added to the tower, which proved too heavy for the foundation in 1650. New piles were driven under the tower and in 1655 the tower stood straight again.
This basilica was the first all stone building in Rotterdam. Many important events took place here. The last priest of the Laurenkerk was Hubertus Duifhuis. The Reformation took place in 1572 and the Laurenskerk became a Protestant church. Ministers of the church include Laurens Johannes Jacobus van Oosterzee, Abraham Hellenbroek, Jan Scharp and J.R. Callenbach, who wrote a book about the history of the church a few years before the Rotterdam Blitz. The church is still used for worship of the Protestant Church.
In the Rotterdam Blitz on May 14, 1940 the Laurenskerk was heavily damaged. At first there were calls to demolish the church, but that was stopped by the Germans. The provisional National Monuments Commission had both supporters and opponents of restoration. In particular, committee member and architect J.J.P. Oud opposed rebuilding in 1950 and presented an alternative plan which would preserve only the tower. Next to the memorial a new, smaller church would be built. This alternative plan was rejected, particularly because restoration of the Laurenskerk was viewed as a symbol of the resilience of Rotterdam’s community. In 1952, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands laid the foundation stone for the restoration, which was completed in 1968.
Project name: Laurens Church, a monument filled with stories
Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Coordinates: 51°55′17″N 4°29′6″E
Type: Church Interior, Exhibition Interior
Surface: 3000 m2
Completion Year: 2010
- 2012 Interior Design Excellence Awards (IDEA Awards) – Silver Award Nomination – Designpreis Deutschland
- 2011 Design and Art Direction (D&AD Awards) – category Exhibition Design – shortlisted
- 2011 Inside Architecture Festival Award (World Festival of Interiors) – Inside Award (WAF Barcelona), Category: Creative re-use, Culture and civic – Shortlisted
- 2011 International Interior Design Awards (FX Awards) – London, Category: Museum or Exhibition Space – Winner
- 2011 International Interior Design Awards (FX Awards) – London, category: Public Space – Winner
- 2011 IIDA Global Excellence Awards – category: Cultural/Institutional/Educational – Honorable mention
- 2011 WAN Awards – Interior Awards – Category: Culture and Civic – shortlisted
Client / Owner / Developer: Laurenskerk Rotterdam
Design Concept: Herman Kossmann (Kossmann.dejong Exhibition architects) – De Ruyterkade 107, 1011 AB Amsterdam and prof. Dr. M. Marlite Halbertsma
Design 2D/3D: Kossmann.dejong, Herman Kossmann, Robert van der Linde, Nienke van den Berg, Kathelijne Eisses, Lieke Neumann, Helma Bovens
Project management: Kossmann.dejong
Exhibition construction and interior: Gielissen Interiors and Exhibitions, Sander Hoekstra
Electricity and light: Da’s Techniek, Erik Das
Film Bombardments in the Chapel of Peace and Reconcilition: De Aanpak
Holy figures: De Bosrand, Ruud de Jong
Interactive installations Praying, Life and Death: Bas Bossinade
Interactive installation Laurens in the Centre: Thomas Kopperschlaeger
Wall painting Chapel Saints and Reform: Wonderwalls, Jan Pronk
Maquettes Laurenskerk: Made by Mistake
Design and realization Chapel of the Mission: Paul Bodoni
Design and realization Crossings: Laurien Mulder and Mariël Kampshoff
English translation: AVB Vertalers
Audiotour: De Aanpak, English version: Tony Torn Printing audiobook: Mart Spruijt, Jos Morree
Binding audiobook: Boekbinderij Patist, Mike Silva
Engineering hardware audiobook: KITT engineering
Text Description: © Courtesy of Kossmann.dejong, WAF, design.nl
Images: © Thijs Wolzak