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As part of the vision on the densification of Eindhoven’s city center, the progressive and internationally operating Dutch MVRDV agency has proposed to raise the St. Catharine’s Church (Sint Catherinakerk) by 55 meters. You know you have more than just a brilliant idea when it instantly wakes people up. Even though most of them by far instinctively express their disbelief and doubts.

Technically, lifting the church up is quite doable. A new foundation under it and hydraulics do the rest. The stability of the building at the new height still needs to be examined. Although this is something that also conventionally solvable according to a privately financed report.

Apparently, no one remains indifferent when your city church is up in the air. But the arguments against it seem to cling to nostalgia. In principle, it is a much more intelligent idea than you might think at first glance.

Function of the church is marginalized

To begin with, the function of the church has since become marginalized. This is due to secularization and the urgent need to provide the national monument with a new purpose. Major transformations are also nothing new. When the medieval church was no longer able to fulfill its function, it was replaced in its entirety by a much larger 19th-century church, which also brought changes to the urban planning situation. So why should that be a problem now?

Besides that, raising it simply has practical advantages. Such as freeing up a large amount of usable floor space in an expensive central location. And by transforming itself into a tall building, the correlation with the newly projected towers will be equaled out. This creates a new layer for cohesion.

The idea builds on long-standing traditions. Namely, that of the ‘freilegen‘, whereby hotch-potch buildings that had grown like mushrooms around churches over time were demolished in order to be able to see the building once more in its full glory.

Bold transformation

Add to this the prolific rivalry with the nearby Paterskerk. The Augustinians were financially limited to one tower but placed the statue of Jezus Waaghals (‘Jesus the courageous’) on top of it. With this statue, they outclassed the chic two-tower Catharinakerk and are now seem to be repeating this with the equally daring transformation of their complex into DomusDela, an open center for religious reflection. Try not responding to that ….

The successful feuilleton from the Eindhoven City marketing department can now write a new chapter with this. The iconic impact of this act, as yet unique in the world, is undeniably instagrammable. That was what was still lacking in the city. An intriguing spectacle that attracts masses of people, draws in influencers, and contributes to a new sense of identity. If the church is jacked up at an exasperatingly slow pace, the phenomenon even has the potential to become the Sagrada Familia of the Low Countries.

The resistance to this inherently outrageous idea is an illustration of how even in the Dutch capital of technology and design, an innovation that involves the actual use of technology and design is not always a matter of course.

About this column

In a weekly column, written alternately by Wendy van Ierschot, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers and Hans Helsloot, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.