Geneva-based architecture and urbanism firm Atelier Archiplein has completed the restoration and transformation of a historic Capuchin convent in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, a region in eastern France. Dating back to the 18th century, the convent’s buildings have been reappropriated for use as an artist residence. Atelier Archiplein’s careful approach to the restoration establishes a connection between the convent’s living spaces, its facades, and cobbled courtyard via new monumental openings. On the garden side, an impressive open gallery made from Hauteville limestone (from Plateau d’Hauteville in eastern France) connects the convent’s north wing with the landscape.
Built in several stages for the Capuchin Brotherhood, the convent’s ensemble consists of two L-shaped buildings that form a cobbled courtyard to the south side and open onto a French-style garden to the north. “As in many cases, the brotherhood disappeared following the French Revolution. That is why the building, furniture, and enclosure, which became national property, were sold to private individuals,” says Atelier Archiplein. The convent went through several changes in the ensuing years — it was divided into two separate properties, its facades and interiors were transformed with the interiors converted into residences, and ultimately, the majority of the property was abandoned. “It is from this state that we inherited and started the project,” says the studio.
Atelier Archiplein describes the new gallery as a “monumental gesture” that creates a contemporary transition between the garden and living spaces. The 35-meter-long (approx. 115 feet) gallery is both artistic and assertive, its material form crafted from solid and monolithic Hauteville Bayadère stone. This hard, beige and blue limestone is suited to outdoor use and in this context, forms a spacious open gallery. For Atelier Archiplein, it is a “radical intervention [whose] excessiveness echoes the imposing volume of the convent.” The gallery also embraces codes related to garden art: “The main angle is treated in a quarter-round, a figure found in the 20th century garden and one of the significant layout motifs of the 18th century convent construction period,” says the studio. The colonnade’s columns are seen to express themselves as independent of the lintel.
When the convent was divided, it led to an isolation of the courtyard from the garden. The restoration project undertaken by Atelier Archiplein sought to re-establish connections by reopening old passages and creating new interior apertures. “The creation of new bays framed by the massive stone — fixed, imposing, but calibrated to the geometries of the place — now offers a view of the cobbled courtyard and thus restores the perception of a building between courtyard and garden,” says the studio.
Working on the convent’s interior spaces, Atelier Archiplein notes: “The invasive presence of dry rot necessitated the complete removal of all interior woodwork and floors and the chipping of all masonry, largely highlighting the finesse of the plaster vaults that could be preserved.” Interior spaces are now bright and airy, reflecting the convent’s storied past with a contemporary flourish.