Monastery Makeovers

One challenge historic preservationists and architects face is that of adaptive reuse–taking a structure built for one specific purpose and giving it a new use. This process is an important part of historic preservation and of green building, but sometimes the original structure presents more of a problem because of the way the original purpose and function dictated the built environment. While it’s relatively common practice to convert unused school buildings into apartments, what do you do with, say, an empty monastery?

Monasteries dominated many aspects of life in other parts of the world for centuries. While monasteries have no widespread uniform appearance, there are trends depending on region and religion.

Imagine you are on a train heading through the scenic Traunviertel in Upper Austria. As you pass gentle mountains and picturesque villages, a large group of Baroque buildings comes into view. Context clues suggest some sort of church complex…but then you see the barbed wire fence and lots of security cameras.

Garsten Prison. Photo:

Don’t let the Baroque architectural features and colorful buildings throw you–you’ve just passed the Justizanstalt Garsten, or the Garsten Prison, a former Benedictine monastery. The 17th-century building complex was in use as a monastery until 1787, and was converted into a prison in 1851. Now that is thinking outside the box.

Or what about the Kruisherenhotel in Maastricht, the Netherlands? The 14th century Gothic building complex was once a monastery for the Catholic order of the Brethren of the Cross, and is now a designer hotel.

Kruisherenhotel. Photo:

Of course, not all monasteries that fall out of use go through radical changes. Monasteries were often production centers for wine and beer. Some are now secular wineries and breweries, like Domaine Weinbach in France, or the Romanesque Kloster Eberbach in Germany, which has been at different times a monastery, lunatic asylum, prison, and winery.

Aerial view, Kloster Eberbach. Photo:

Monasteries can certainly be restored without being converted, as well. Because of their important role in world history, a monastery preserved or restored simply as that can be an extremely meaningful structure. While monasteries can be striking examples of Romanesque, Gothic, or Baroque architecture, they can also be testaments to local heritage and vernacular architecture!

In 2015, AiP is partnering with Volunteer South America to do repairs on traditional stone buildings in the village of San Andrés, Ecuador, including a 17th-century Franciscan convent. You can read more about the project and register to participate here!

This entry was posted in Building Conservation, Historic Buildings, Historic Preservation, Vernacular Architecture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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