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Author(s): OBIKA et émeline Curien, architecte chercheuse au LHAC (Laboratoire d'Histoire de l'Architecture contemporaine), Maison de l'Architecture de Lorraine

The reconversion of the Sainte-Geneviève chapel

At the centre of the Parc Régional de Lorraine, the reconversion of the Saint Genevieve Chapel in Saint Maurice sous les Côtes is the outcome of a meeting driven by the desire to enhance the existing heritage of a rural area. Giving it a second life, transforming this religious site into a welcome centre for hikers and cultural events.

“What is immediately striking about Obika’s work is its ability to combine a pragmatic approach, ‘old farmer’s wisdom’ and a poetic universe that speaks to the child in everyone. Telling stories through their projects is at the core of their practice. This involves imagining future uses and situations as well as developing an imaginary world around the project and its meanings, within daily life. Their little extension of the Saint Genevieve Chapel, intended to welcome hikers, thus becomes a “sleeping beauty”, that seems to have always been there awaiting us at the edge of the forest. A few light bulbs arranged under the frame help create a unique atmosphere. The architectural systems that they implement are simple. In their own way, they take on the words of landscape designer Gilles Clément, who proposes to do with and not against. Working with local materials and geographically nearby craftsmen because that gives meaning to their practice and integrates a real, environmentally responsible commitment: understanding the location, using what is already there, and implementing environmentally friendly materials.

While Katarina Malingrey and Caroline Leloup often choose wood in their designs, it is for its constructive intelligence, as well as its modularity, which allows for rapid implementation. At the chapel, the repetition of small farmhouses made of wood bars forms the vaulted ceiling of the extension. Reducing the sections and scaling down the rooms allows the project to crystallise in its structure. The architects describe this attitude as being pragmatic above all. In a strained economic context, there is no possibility for adding, cladding, or “decorating”. This strategy allows “doing architecture” when the request from the client consists only of bringing an existing structure into compliance with current standards. Inventing an order and simulating it through conversations between them helps raise the quality level. For them, it is exercising their responsibility as architects in a society that often wants to be able to do without their skills.”