Renaissance du Couvent Saint-François

The architect Amelia Tavella is a finalist for the prestigious international award, the European Mies Van Der Rohe Prize 2024, for her project on her native island “Renaissance du Couvent Saint-François”. She thus proudly represents France, but also her native island, Corsica.

On February 20, 2024, in Barcelona, the European Commission and the Fundació Mies van der Rohe revealed the 5 finalists who will compete for the 2024 European Union Contemporary Architecture Prize – Mies van der Rohe Prize. The winners of this award awarded every 2 years by the European Union will be revealed at the end of April.

For this new edition, the jury considered that the Saint-François Convent, like the 4 other finalist works, promote and become models and references for the city’s local policies, because they all create high-quality inclusive living environments. They transform and improve the living conditions of relatively small communities in places that have experienced various processes of forgetting.

The Saint-François Convent, built in 1492, a partially ruined historical monument, was dormant. The young architect had to rebuild it without abandoning the remnants of the past. It now exists in two scenes. The first restored from the original imprint, the second, a ghost, destroyed, wears a robe of copper, shimmering, magical, which attaches to the stone like a graft that transmits the lost strength, embedding itself in the original structure and magnifying the sacred.

Copper acts with delicacy and captures the light that was lacking in the stone. It nourishes it, as well as the tree that has grown within it, the hidden backbone of an untouchable place that its architect, Amelia Tavella, a Corsican child and woman has resurrected and celebrated, always aware that the monks were watching over her actions from beyond.

Without betraying, the architect followed her own specifications: a passion for her island, respect for history.

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«I believe in higher, invisible forces. The Saint-François Convent is part of this belief. Perched high on its promontory, it was a defensive castle before becoming a place of prayer, of retreat, chosen by monks aware of the absolute beauty of the site. Faith joins the sublime.»

Facing the cemetery, the convent overlooks the village it watches over. It has a front and a backstage. An olive grove encircles its feet. Facing it, the offering of the spectacle of the Corsican mountains, a dizzying carousel of passes and ridges that seem to change their attire with the seasons. Here beats the heart of Alta Rocca. The beauty here is religious, supernatural.
Nature has grown inside the building, a Siamese nature slipped between the stones, then became a vegetal armor protecting it from collapse. A fig tree is included in the facade. The roots, now structural, have replaced the lime that did not withstand the test of time. An essential component of the monument, Amelia Tavella honored this nature that protected the dormant building for so long before its resurrection.

« I chose to keep the ruins and to replace the missing part, the ghostly part, with copper work. I walked in the footsteps of the past, connecting beauty to faith, faith to art, circulating the spirits of the past towards a form of modernity that never betrays. Ruins are remnants, imprints. They also speak of foundations and truth. They were beacons, cardinal points, guiding our axes, our choices, our volumes. »

« Building upon ruins is the past and modernity embracing each other, making the promise never to betray. One becomes the other and neither fades away. It’s an interlocking of an older time into a new time that does not undo but binds, attaches, grasps, two unknown and non-foreign parts where one becomes the extension of the other. »

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The international Jury – Mies Van Der Rohe Award 2024 :
Frédéric Druot, Martin Braathen, Pippo Ciorra, Tinatin Gurgenidze, Adriana Krnácová, Sala Makumbundu, and Hrvoje Njiric have chosen 5 works that honor the current shared culture of architecture in Europe.

« I have always built like this on my island, like an archaeologist who gathers what was to what is and what will be; I do not remove, I attach, tie, affix, slide, relying on the original work: copper reveals the stone and sanctifies the ruinous state. »

The ruin is suddenly magnified, held by a copper framework, destined itself to transform, to patinate, to become a second skin and possess a history:

« I built the House of the Territory by aligning myself with the original volume. By mimicry, I reproduced the silhouette of the pre-existing building. Like the scene of the mountains, I traced the outline, careful of a symmetry of Beauty, nothing must offend the eye. I am haunted by the evidence. Each work is a loving work. Love of the place, of the building, of its mutation. »

Copper allowed for a gesture of gentleness, it is feminine like the stone. Unlike granite, however, it approaches its greatness through its preciousness and its propensity to capture light, to reflect it, sending it back to the sky like the prayers of the monks and the faithful addressing the Most High.

The Jury Words :

The 5 works exceed the paradigm of sustainability and dignify everyday architecture, the places where we inhabit and learn, where we meet and discuss and enjoy ourselves.

The convent has become a cathedral. Light has infiltrated the inside of the building through its moucharabiehs, acting like stained glass windows, dispersing the rays of the sun and the force of the telluric Alta Rocca.
Let us hope that this edifice, with its regained breath, can demonstrate to the international jury that it contributes to constituting a « shared culture of architecture in Europe » as the Mies van der Rohe Prize jury desires.

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