Atlantic Cities
Postcard

The Evolution of an Abandoned Church: From Artistic Commune to Luxury Condos

Today's postcard comes from Brussels, where an abandoned church known as "Gesu" is about to be turned into a luxury hotel and apartment complex.

The church and its attached convent hosts a community of over 150 squatters, who were allowed to stay until the 90 million euro construction project began. The squatters mostly hail from the Czech Republic, Spain, Brazil and Morocco and pay about 25 euros per adult each month in rent. Officials, including the municipal mayor, visited earlier this year to discuss current living conditions including issues with shoplifters, burglaries and poor waste management. 


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The building was deconsecrated in 2005, and it was quickly turned into an alternative housing complex and an alternative arts center that has become a unique addition to the city's night life. Its prime location near the city's main attractions and public transit stations, means the mixed-use conversion is hardly surprising.  The Swiss-based developers announced their current plans for the site in 2007 and it's now scheduled to open in the spring of 2017. The developers hope to receive construction permits by the end of the year. 

What Gesu turns into at night.

Reuters photographer, Yves Herman, photographed the former religious site this spring, giving us a glimpse of daily life in a community that'll likely bare little resemblance to the one that replaces it after Gesu's next reincarnation:

Children look through a broken window in Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Sergio Aruajo from Brazil sits in Gesu, where he has lived at for two years. April 18, 2013 (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Sergio Aruajo from Brazil poses for Reuters in his room in Gesu, where he has lived at for two years. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Aitor Castelruiz, 41, from San Sebastian, Spain sits in his room with his dogs Hipy and Tigret in Gesu, where he has lived for a year. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Residents sit in the courtyard of Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Children play in Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

A boy plays in a corridor in Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

A woman walks up the stairs in Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Residents listen to officials during a visit by authorities in Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Residents remove rubbish from the courtyard of Gesu. April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Children play in the courtyard in Gesu.April 18, 2013. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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