To realise the potential of these churches, one needs simply to look to the past to understand that these buildings were as much about people’s social lives as they were about people’s spiritual lives. With loneliness now being considered an epidemic, the future of these buildings lies in their past role as a meeting place for the community. The success of Folkehuset Absalon in Copenhagen is testament to this. If we consider that these buildings are places where heightened emotions are experienced (weddings and funerals) and thus, lasting memories are created, then we simply need to harness religion’s propensity for inverting time by making days extraordinary with feast days and celebrations, rather than ordinary. Thus, the concept of a memory palace seems strong, a place where communities come together to meet, celebrate (and sometimes commisserate) and collaborate to make events full of happy memories that will continue to add to the collective memory that these churches already represent.
The divide in society these days is less between people of different faiths and more between people of faith and people with little or no faith. Thus, these buildings need to have a large secular programme to be inclusive of people with any and no faith as opposed to simply being a multi-denominational place of worship, which effectively excludes the many non-believers. Religion is no longer a large part of the majority of people’s lives, thus, it only needs to be a small part of the programme for these very large churches. A portion of the programme needs to earn some form of revenue, with which to sustain the building. However, greater use by an affectionate community will also support its future through donations and fund-raising as has occurred in the past during more religious times. The intention of any new design for the church is to improve the connection of the church to the outside world via its own public space. There is no longer any real reason for these monolithic structures to be so introverted.
The transformation of the church grounds serves as a catalyst. Reactivating the ‘void’ will not only make greater use of under-utilised public space, but it will naturally draw more people through the site and reintegrate the church into local people’s mental map of the area