Amelia Tavella rebuilds the ‘phantom’ part of Convent Saint-François in jaded copper

An extensive rehabilitation and extension project in the French island of Corsica, this rebuilding of the Convent Saint-François is an amenable marriage of manner and material.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Mar 07, 2022

A gorgeous setting - miles of green cover atop a promontory - is animated by rust coloured ruins of a 15th century structure. The structure itself, a defensive castle before transforming into a place of prayer, submitting to the calm of its environs, animates the setting. It draws from it, the same way it gives back. The blending of the two is seamless, each incomplete without the other, making it one of many in fact that impart Corsica its very enviable stature as a mediterranean haven where architecture and dreamy visual avenues marry.

  • The convent is a listed historical monument originally constructed in 1480 | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The convent is a listed historical monument originally constructed in 1480 Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • The building overlooks the spectacular Corsican mountains | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The building overlooks the spectacular Corsican mountains Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • The rear side of the complex is marked by a cemetery | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The rear side of the complex is marked by a cemetery Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

The architect further elucidates the setting of Convent Saint-François with just a bit of theatricality. The restored convent watches over a remote Corsican village, an olive grove grows akin to a collar at its feet, and its back is tied to a cemetery. There was thus a distinct sense of the passage of time, of nature taking over, when the site and its complacent ruins in Sainte-Lucie de Tallano were handed over to French architect Amelia Tavella for rehabilitation and extension. And that is what served to be the conceptual spine of a spirited yet brave restoration. "I believe in higher and invisible forces. The Convent Saint-François of Sainte-Lucie de Tallano, built in 1480, is part of this belief. Housed in a height, on its promontory, it was a defensive castle before being a place of prayer, of retreat, chosen by monks aware of the absolute beauty of the site. Faith rallies to the sublime,” states Tavella on the site and its trappings.

  • Perforated and solid copper panels were chosen to complete the restored profile of the original structure | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Perforated and solid copper panels were chosen to complete the restored profile of the original structure Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • The front profile of the restored convent building | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The front profile of the restored convent building Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

Already listed as a historical monument, the convent structure, even in its partial ruins and vegetated edifice, gave the architect enough vestiges of its past to work with. The rubble masonry and lime plaster conquered by roots, vines, and greens became an armour as if to protect the structure from eroding, leaving a distinct mark on the patina of time. Coming to think of it, copper, a natural mineral yet mined and made to metal by man, seems a rather imperative choice of material for the convent’s new restoration architecture. The contrast it poses to the almost entirely natural edifice is formidable, yet both materials find consonance and companionship in sharing an elemental age. The torn part of the convent is thus transformed using copper work into the House of the Territory.

  • The restored profile mostly lacks any fenestrations except an arched gateway for entrance, mimicked from the original structure | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The restored profile mostly lacks any fenestrations except an arched gateway for entrance, mimicked from the original structure Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • The footprint of the extension in copper is slightly inset from the inward footprint of the rubble structure | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The footprint of the extension in copper is slightly inset from the inward footprint of the rubble structure Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

Minorly set back from the inward footprint of the original structure, the copper extrusion seems a digital recreation of the original structure’s planar volume, clad in sheets upon sheets of copper. Bereft of the orderly fenestrations of the original building, the copper extension is marked by several square perforations that filter light into its interiors much like stained glass would in a cathedral.

  • An archway composed of the remnants of the original structure plastered in lime, and the new copper extension | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    An archway composed of the remnants of the original structure plastered in lime, and the new copper extension Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • Copper was chosen for its highly reflective material capacity along with its textural softness | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Copper was chosen for its highly reflective material capacity along with its textural softness Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • A retained detail of an arched vault from the original structure | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    A retained detail of an arched vault from the original structure Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

The profile is so temptingly modern and minimalistic that even as the structure is wholly composed as unitary, the past and modern embracing each other becomes much more than a stylistic statement. Does the original stone edifice garb the copper profile, or does the copper leap forth from the ruins akin to a child going into the world? Each is congruent to the other.

  • The perforations on the copper surface are meant to emulate light filtering through stained windows in churches | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The perforations on the copper surface are meant to emulate light filtering through stained windows in churches Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • The convent is an ephemeral meeting of the past and modern | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The convent is an ephemeral meeting of the past and modern Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • The extension and rehabilitation makes no amendments to the original structure in a bid to pay reverence to Corsican heritage | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworldail of an arched vault from the original structure | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    The extension and rehabilitation makes no amendments to the original structure in a bid to pay reverence to Corsican heritage Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • “I liked the idea of a possible return to ruin, that the copper could be undone” - Amelia Tavella | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    “I liked the idea of a possible return to ruin, that the copper could be undone” - Amelia Tavella Image: Thibaut Dini, Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

"The ruin is like an x-ray image of a polished structure undone by time,” further states Tavella. “I have always built this way on my Corsican island, like an archaeologist who brings together what was and what is and what will happen; I do not remove, I hang, bind, affix, slide, resting on the initial ground, on the original work: the copper reveals the stone, the monument, and it sacralizes the ruiniform and poetic state,” Tavella opines on the ephemeral fusion of the two.

  • Plan: Level 1 | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Plan: Level 1 Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • Plan: Level 2 | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Plan: Level 2 Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • Plan: Level 3 | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Plan: Level 3 Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • Plan: Level 4 | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Plan: Level 4 Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

What copper also allowed Tavella to do was dabble with the more tangible properties of the material that in turn influence the intangible ones. Its softness, for instance, its “stone-like femininity”, allowed the architect to carefully project its preciousness and propensity to capture light and to send it back. “Copper transforms the place into an experience. The sun falls there and carries away. Tavella closes with her commitment to Corsican heritage conservation by saying, “I liked the idea of a possible return to ruin, that the copper could be undone - this possibility is a courtesy, a respect, to the past, to Corsican heritage."

  • Transverse section showing the convent and the Église Saint-François’ original structure | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Transverse section showing the convent and the Église Saint-François’ original structure Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • Transverse section showing part of the copper intervention | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Transverse section showing part of the copper intervention Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • Longitudinal section through the convent building | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    Longitudinal section through the convent building Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • North Elevation | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    North Elevation Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes
  • South Elevation | Convent Saint-François Restoration | Amelia Tavella Architectes | STIRworld
    South Elevation Image: Courtesy of Amelia Tavella Architectes

Project Details

Name: Rebirth of the Convent Saint-François
Nature of the project: Réhabilitation et extension of the Convent Saint-François now dedicated to culture
Location: France, Corsica (Ste-Lucia di Tallano)
Lead Architect: Amelia Tavella Architectes
Surface Area: 1000 sq.m.
Project Management: Collectivité de Corse
Historic building advisor: Perrot & Richard
Structural engineer: ISB
Fluids engineer: G2I
Economist: Ingenia
Acoustic consulting: Acoustique & Conseil

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