New Uses for Old Church Buildings in Amsterdam

A church building in Amsterdam was once a public space for everyone to meet. They are now no longer a public building anymore. But, some church buildings in Amsterdam can however be visited for exhibitions, concerts or they are being transformed into homes.

Published by Nicole on 29/06/2016

Over 200 years ago a church building in Amsterdam was a public space for religious, social and commercial activities and entrance was free. Nowadays most church buildings are locked or there is an entrance fee if you want to visit it. Luckily most of these beautiful buildings are monuments, allowing them to escape demolition. If you have ever been inside a church building, you know how incredible the architecture is. How could one destroy this?

Collecting dust

Only a fair few people are still visiting their local church at least once a week for religious activities. On other days the building is unused and only collecting dust (to say it like that). How can you make a church building more lively and attractive for people to visit? I visited two church buildings in the city centre of Amsterdam to see how they manage to attract hundreds of visitors each week. Also, how do they make sure that it is interesting for everyone?

At the moment both De Nieuwe Kerk (The New Church) and De Oude Kerk (The Old Church) have an exhibition inside. Since a few years the annual World Press Photo exhibition has its premiere each year in De Nieuwe Kerk. Last year the exhibition was visited by 93.000 visitors. De Oude Kerk is known for having a bit more experimental exhibitions. Its eye catcher last year was ‘The Garden Which is the Nearest to God’, a rooftop installation by Japanese artist Taturo Atzu.

Visual journalism inside De Nieuwe Kerk

De Nieuwe Kerk is one of the most impressive historical monuments in town. It is located in the heart of Amsterdam, around the corner of Dam Square. The church building dates back to the middle ages. It was consecrated in 1409. You might also know it as a Royal Church, because the Royal family still uses it for Official, Royal and state ceremonies.

I give De Nieuwe Kerk a visit at least once a year and mainly for its annual World Press Photo exhibition. The exhibition always has its first stop of a global tour in Amsterdam. I find it impressive to see the best visual journalism from the past year in a building with a lot of history. It is not just photography, but also multimedia with new approaches to visual journalism.

Besides the World Press Photo there currently is the Streets of the World photography exhibition. Photographer Jeroen Swolfs travelled to almost all countries in the world to cover its daily life. It is such an interesting contrast to be confronted with straight in your face visual journalism and on the other side joyful street photography by Swolfs. You sometimes forget that you are actually inside a church building.

A soundwalk and experimental art inside De Oude Kerk

De Oude Kerk is the oldest building in Amsterdam. What once was a wooden chapel has grown into an impressive building that it is now. Some say it is Amsterdam’s living room. Not everyone will discover this church building, as it is located in the middle of the notorious Red Light District. Don’t let that scare you off to give it a visit.

I have visited De Oude Kerk a few times now for an exhibition. Last year it was ‘The Garden Which is the Nearest to God’ that I found very very impressive. How amazing is it to actually be on top of a church building and being able to touch the golden angel. Currently there is the Once in a Lifetime exhibition which invites you to reflect upon your life from beginning to end. You have to realize that whilst walking through the church building, you actually also walk over graves. This is what makes giving De Oude Kerk a visit even more interesting.

There is another reason you should consider giving De Oude Kerk a visit

If you follow the hour-long soundwalk you get to explore the building from East to West and North to South. Dutch actress Halina Reijn takes you on a journey via a podcatcher. During this soundwalk you get to know more about its history and architecture. This church building has so many stories that you would want to hear about. The most surprising story for me is that of a hidden face painted by an artist. You will need to do the soundwalk to know more about it and its location.

De Nieuwe Kerk and De Oude Kerk are just a few of many church buildings that have different purposes. Concerts and flea markets are frequently being held inside church building. There is even a church building in Amsterdam West that is being transformed into an apartment complex. Also, venues such as Paradiso, Bazar and Bitterzoet used to be a church building. There are many possibilities to give these magnificent buildings a new use.

- Nicole -

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