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  • Writer's pictureFenja Günther

Spatial Gamechanger in Groningen: The Lutheran Church and the Smart Zone

Nestled in the heart of Groningen, between the bustling Vismarkt and the shopping street Gedempte Zuiderdiep, one can find the former hidden church of the Lutheran community. Not immediately recognizable from the street as a church, this building embodies the evolving function of historical spaces within modern cities. Originally designed as a concealed prayer house, the church has since undergone a transformation that reflects the dynamic use of urban space. Besides still being the heart of the Groningen Lutheran community, the halls, with their beautiful acoustics, are now frequently used for various cultural events. By offering space for diverse functions, it is fitting that since June 2023, the first Smart Zone of Groningen lies directly opposite the Lutheran Church. Both the church and the street show that multifunctional space use will become a cornerstone for urban planning in the coming decades.

Evolution of Use

Built in the 17th century, a period when the Lutheran faith was officially banned but tolerated by the Groningen city council, the church received an inconspicuous porch. It was not until the 19th century that the building was given a neoclassical facade and a graceful swan, clearly marking its religious purpose. Inside, visitors are greeted by a beautiful interior with two organs, intricate wood carvings, and a separate Luther Hall in the traditional Amsterdam style, among other valuable features to discover.

As society evolves, so does the function of our buildings. In the Netherlands, approximately one in four churches has been repurposed for cultural events. The Lutheran Church is no exception and now hosts not only Sunday services but also weddings, funerals, dinners, yoga sessions, symposia, book readings, music festivals, and more. Despite the diverse functions the church now houses, there is one common denominator: the need to come together. As space becomes scarcer, churches offer a unique opportunity to accommodate large groups, in the case of the Lutheran Church up to 200 people. The history of the building adds an extra dimension to each cultural event and enhances the visitors' experience.

A Look Behind the Scenes

Organizing such a varied program involves a lot of logistics. Friso de Boer, the Rental Coordinator of the church and a native of Groningen, coordinates everything; from snacks and drinks to light and sound. Friso ensures that every event runs smoothly. With a program as versatile as this, the orders also vary drastically. “If it’s a classical concert, I know I can leave the card machine aside. It's all cash.”, he says, and when it’s an indie songwriter contest, he makes sure to have enough beer in stock. On top of the refreshments, various technological deliveries enter the church. From mixing consoles to organs, extra chairs, or instruments for the musicians. It's a logistical puzzle.

The logistical challenges are not made easier by the location of the church, on the narrow Haddingestraat. In the past, deliveries caused significant road blockages that frustrated both residents and passersby. Trucks, lacking loading and unloading spots, were forced to block the one-way street. Cars then began to stack up behind the delivery, honking and complaining. When, as in the case of a funeral, a coffin was solemnly carried into the church, you want it to happen in peace and dignity instead of having to do everything as quickly as possible to prevent further congestion.

And Then Came the Smart Zone…

The introduction of a Smart Zone in front of the church has been a gamechanger. Two parking spots right in front of the church were transformed into a Smart Zone. Residents could still use the parking spots if they made a reservation, while the Lutheran Church could reserve the space for its deliveries. Friso can now coordinate all deliveries in advance and spread them throughout the day based on when the space is available. Some drivers come as early as 5 a.m., others in the middle of the day, and most artists only load their instruments late at night. Thanks to the Coding the Curbs app, Friso no longer has to coordinate each delivery meticulously with his colleagues - he knows the Smart Zone is guaranteed to be available for deliveries to load and unload peacefully. Some of the deliveries now even manage the booking themselves or check in upon arrival. However, the church's suppliers are not the only ones using the Smart Zone; the wine boutique down the street, the organist, and residents with cargo bikes use the system daily. The space is thus shared based on who needs it when. The solar-powered Smart Sign displays a clear occupancy schedule for everyone, and automatic enforcement through license plate registration prevents misuse. Working with the Smart Zone and the Coding the Curbs booking system has become the "new normal" for Friso’s daily planning, and he cannot imagine going back to the old way.

This Smart Zone success story is part of a broader movement towards more efficient and flexible use of urban space. Why should parking, loading and unloading, and recreation happen in a static space, bound by rigid rules that lead to congestion and underutilization when a dynamic, bookable system can adapt to the diverse needs of the community? It's a different way of thinking about how we allocate our urban spaces - not just for better traffic management but for a more livable, vibrant city. This innovative approach at the Lutheran Church on Haddingestraat is not just about managing logistics; it's about rethinking how our urban environment can better serve people. As the church continues to open its doors for new activities, it symbolizes the potential for our urban spaces to evolve in ways that meet our changing needs and bring our community closer together.

Curious about the events at the Lutheran Church? Check out the program here. In the last week of August, the church is also part of the Noorderzon festival again, a real highlight in the region.


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