Located in Borgloon and also called “Reading Between the Lines” or the “Doorkijkkerk”, this unique work of art is a must-see when visiting the province of Limburg.
Regular readers of Discovering Belgium may get the impression that the country is already teeming with churches and doesn’t need another one. After all, most of my country walks seem to start from a village church. But apparently there is always room for another church. At least that’s what Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh thought.
They constructed the “Doorkijkkerk”, or to give it its official but rather clunky English title, the “Reading Between The Lines” church. I prefer to just call it the See-through Church.
They took 100 steel sheets weighing a colossal 30 tons and stacked them on top of each other in the shape of a church. Nothing particularly unique about that. But they separated the sheets so that the landscape is always visible throughout the church, from inside and outside.
WHY DID THEY MAKE THE SEE-THROUGH CHURCH?
You may be disappointed — or relieved — to discover that the architects didn’t hear a voice from heaven telling them that Belgium needed a new church. The sculpture is actually part of Museum Z33’s Z-OUT project. This consists of a series of art installations that encourage visitors to see the landscape of the Borgloon-Heers region of Limburg in a different light.
The architect’s thinking was that everybody recognizes churches and sees them as the center of the community and landmarks in the landscape. The duo experimented with various ideas before decided on transparency by crossing the church experience with the landscape experience.
SOME TECHNICAL DETAILS
- A laser scan of a nearby church captured the building’s basic shape and proportions, from which the architects created digital and physical models.
- The structure is based on a ratio of 1 centimeter of metal to 9 centimeters of opening to allow the landscape to show through.
- It’s 10 meters tall into one hundred 10-centimeter-tall layers.
- The steel sheets were made by Belgian metal fabricator Cravero from 100 unique drawings.
- Each drawing was marked with the locations of approximately 2,000 spacers, or columns, that hold the steel layers apart.
- After receiving 33 tons of 100 laser-cut metal sheets, groups of them were welded together so that a crane could hoist them into position (see video below).
- The sculpture was finalized on 24th September, 2011.
- Despite it’s openness, even if when it’s pouring down with rain outside, you won’t get wet!
DOES IT HAVE A HIDDEN MEANING?
The architects are keen to avoid giving the church any preconceived meanings. Nor does it make any religious statement. Instead, “the space in between the form leaves room for interpretation.”
What’s clever is that depending on where you are standing, the church looks solid, or seems to partially dissolve into the landscape.
At the same time, looking at the landscape from inside the church frames the countryside in rectangular boxes.
HOW TO VISIT THE SEE-THROUGH CHURCH IN BORGLOON
This is the tricky bit! What’s laudable about Belgium — they like to keep their hidden treasures hidden — can also be laughable (or extremely frustrating!) when you’re trying to find them.
You won’t find large flashing signposts labeled “Doorkijkkerk: This Way.” Those that are there are so small you’ll find it easy to miss them.
The map below shows the area to head towards. The N79 is the main road in between St. Truiden and Tongeren. Borgloon is just off the picture at the top.
On the map you can see the location of the church and a small car park along the N79. You will have to cross the N79 and follow the footpath to the church. In the summer, this car park (which is basically a small pull-in) can get full. I have marked a couple of alternative parkings on back streets. Again, it’s a matter of crossing the N79 and following a lane and then a footpath until you reach the See-Through Church.
A DAY OUT IN LIMBURG
Obviously a visit to the See-Through Church of Borgloon isn’t going to take longer than an hour. So here are a couple of other places to visit to enjoy a day trip in Limburg:
- The impressive Grand Commandery Alden-Biesen
- A walk around Alden-Biesen
- The Schulensmeer: Flanders’ largest man-made lake
- The heaths, ponds and woods of De Maten nature reserve
- Belgium’s only national park: The Hoge Kempen
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