An Abbey in Belgium

Scale 1 — Position of the site

© Photo Jeroen Verrecht © Photo Jeroen Verrecht
© Drawing Van der Laan Archives © Drawing Van der Laan Archives

The analytical drawings below are made following a series of workshops at Roosenberg Abbey between 2010 and 2015. I am especially grateful to architect Frans Ruijs for his contributions.


At Roosenberg Abbey, Dom van der Laan works with a cell of 351 cm. Walls have a thickness of 49 cm. Based on these dimensions, the three orders of size are developed:
– The wall pieces and window openings vary between 0.5 m and  3.5 m
– The larger spaces and convent wings vary between 3.5 m and 25 m
– The terrain, or site, is 49 times bigger than the cell, or 175 m

This results in the four orders of size as shown on the left. These are the specific series of measures used for the design of Roosenberg Abbey. Again, they are like the keys of a piano from which the design is composed, as will be shown in the practical examples on the following pages. You can place your bookmark next to the analysis, to follow the exact measures.

0,5 m wall thickness
3,5 m cella
25 m court
175 m domain

Van der Laan expresses the concrete building measures in cm.

Scale 1 — Overall geometric scheme

Scale 2 — The monastic cell

© Photo Coen van der Heiden © Photo Coen van der Heiden

The monastic cell or guest room is the smallest spatial unit.

wall : cell = 1:7

Roosenberg Abbey is the first place where Dom van der Laan designs this type of room for one person. Two square windows overlook the garden. The cell contains one bed with a bedside table, one cabinet and one table with a chair.

The monastic cell measures 3.51 m x 4.00 m, a proportion of 6:7. On the isometric drawing, these measures can easily be counted, through the 49 cm x 49 cm tile pattern.

Scale 2 — Measuring scheme of the wings

Roosenberg Abbey has 12 cells for the Sisters in the south wing, and 25 cells for the guests in the west wing.

Plan organisation

1 entrance
2 forecourt
3 church
4 courtyard
5 sacristy
6 parlour
7 office
8 parlour
9 study hall
10 atelier
11 recreation
12 stairs
13 refectory
14 kitchen
15 dishes
16 refectory for the guests
17 conference hall
18 reception hall
19 museum
20 porter’s lodge
21 abbey entrance

Scale 2 — The half space

All the spaces on the ground floor, for example the refectory and the library, are shaped according to the specific formula of the hall-space, more specifically a half-space, as there is only a gallery on one side.

© Photo Julie De Raedt © Photo Julie De Raedt
© Photo Julie De Raedt © Photo Julie De Raedt

For the façades of Roosenberg Abbey, Dom van der Laan develops a general formula that consists of a solid base and an open frieze, organised by two horizontal rows of windows. The open frieze relates to the whole façade as 2:5, again the eustyle condition of superposition.

Frieze and base both have a specific character, reflecting the form and rhythm of the spaces inside.

Scale 2 — The stairwell

© Photo Caroline Voet © Photo Caroline Voet

The ground level and top level are connected through a stairwell that has the length of two bays. The staircase itself is formed in a slot between the exterior façade and a new parallel wall.
The slot is illuminated from above by four windows on the first floor. This way, the light travels down the stairs, making it a bright focal point in a rather dark hall. This is enhanced by the fact that the upward movement is ‘announced’ by five steps toward the slot: first a movement toward the light, then a movement alongside the light. On the first floor, the parallel wall has a height of 1 m, so the perspective opens up as one moves upwards.

Scale 2 — The church

© Photo Julie De Raedt © Photo Julie De Raedt

The church of Roosenberg Abbey has an exceptional shape. It is made of a superposition of a rectangular base and an octagonal lantern. Dom van der Laan regards the octagon as a primitive formula to bring together wall-pieces to a spatial enclosure by juxtaposition. Width and height are organized according to the Plastic Number proportion of 3:4. The tabernacle is situated in a small apse behind the altar. This formula of a centralized church allows the altar to be positioned in the middle, with the celebrants gathered closely around it. Dom van der Laan referred to it as a fourfold nearness: one giant cell in the middle. As such, it is the inside space that is built here, while the outside space is left over. The result is a tension around the octagon between the spaces bordering the entrance and the apse and the two narrow corridor-like spaces on the side. 

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