by Zohra KhanOct 12, 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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."
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
Acoustic consulting: Acoustique & Conseil