Adaptive reuse of abandoned historic churches: building type and public perception
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This study investigates the adaptive reuse of abandoned historic churches. Since churches serve as cultural heritage symbols, the public becomes concerned with maintaining the historic integrity of these buildings. More so, this phenomenon is accentuated when the church is recognized as a historic building by the National Register of Historic Places. Yet, more and more churches are abandoned due to decreases in congregation size and financial constraints that limit the maintenance of the churches. Adaptive reuse projects of these abandoned churches are often initiated to save and preserve these buildings. This research focuses on the question: What is the public perception of critical architectural features of a historic church when it is adapted to a new function (new building type)? To support the importance of this question, the study integrates two major bodies of knowledge. The first body of literature is research conducted in cognitive science focusing on human perception of environments. The second body of literature is on historic preservation with a focus on adaptive reuse. The integration of these literature reviews is further demonstrated in the analysis of examples of past and recent adaptive reuse projects of religious buildings. Following this investigation, a conceptual model was developed to illustrate how research variables and hypotheses were made based on the findings from this literature review. To test the research question and its hypotheses, two prototypes of historic churches were developed. Then, typologies of changes in the important architectural features (interior volume and light quality) of the churches were constructed from examples of adaptively reused historic churches listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These typologies were developed to represent various building types (e.g., community/ cultural, institutional, commercial, and residential). Finally, an experiment was conducted to test public perceptions of acceptable and desirable degree of each reuse and the degree of retaining religious origins by use of these typologies. The findings of this research illustrate the importance of public perception and building type in adaptive reuse projects. This in turn provides theoretical and practical implications for adaptive reuse projects in the field of historic preservation.
Ahn, You Kyong (2007). Adaptive reuse of abandoned historic churches: building type and public perception. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from