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A new permanent public art work for the village of Bossuit, Belgium
This project was commissioned by the Municipality of Avelgem in collaboration with the Vlaams Bouwmeester Team. The architect was Pol Sileghem & Partners and the terrazzo fabrication was by Nino Tondat.

By: Ellen Harvey

BOSSUIT.- A superfluous church in Bossuit, Belgium, originally built to replace a church destroyed in World War I, is made into an artificial ruin to create a new open-air public space. The new terrazzo floor shows both the elements that were removed during demolition (pillars, ceiling arches, pulpit, confessional, font, altars) and the shadow of the ruins of the previous church.

This project was commissioned by the Municipality of Avelgem in collaboration with the Vlaams Bouwmeester Team. The architect was Pol Sileghem & Partners and the terrazzo fabrication was by Nino Tondat.

A church has many functions in a village: to serve as an architectural focal point for the village; to provide for a quiet contemplative and spiritual retreat for villagers; to serve as a communal ritual space for significant personal and social moments; to create a sense of community. The loss of a church, even one that is sparsely attended, is a significant loss to a community, especially one like Bossuit that lacks an alternative central communal space.

While St. Amelbergaʼs Church in Bossuit itself was not particularly architecturally significant, Harvey proposed that it not simply be torn down once it became apparent that the community lacked the resources or congregation for its upkeep in 2009. Its reconstruction after the original church was destroyed in World War I had consumed considerable community resources and Harvey felt that it would be a shame to simply tear down a structure that was the focus of local pride and that had been the site of many significant events in the recent history of the community. The church also provided a much needed vertical site marker for the community of Bossuit which otherwise appears more as a grouping of houses along the road than an independent community.

Harvey intended the repurposed church building to replace some of the churchʼs original functions as well as to take into account the desire expressed by villagers in their Village Definition Project for more green in the streets, playground areas and communal life. It was also intended to contribute to the development of the tourist and recreational function of the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal, ideally by providing a pleasing destination for tourist use of the canal. The project was also intended to create a respectful addition to the still functional war graveyard adjacent to the church.

The initial transformation consisted of removing the roof and windows of the church - the parts of a building that are the first to deteriorate once a building is no longer being maintained. The plaster and the interior columns and furnishings were also removed to transform the church into a stabilized ruin that requires minimal upkeep and that can be safely accessed by the public.

In keeping with the villagers desire for more public space, the interior of the ruin has been paved over with a monochrome terrazzo floor so that the “ruin” can become a multi-purpose outdoor site to be used for celebrations, fairs or any other desired gathering. The design of the floor shows the elements that were removed during demolition (pillars, ceiling arches, pulpit, confessional, font, altars). A terrazzo shadow based on the ruined silhouette of the previous church at the end of World War I falls over the floor reminding visitors not only of the current repurposed church but of the rich history of the site. This is at least the second ruin on this site. History repeats itself.

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