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Monastere de L’Eau de Vie

Part 1 Project 2010
Nicholas Shurey
University of Bath | UK
The overarching aim for this programmatic hybrid is to redefine the monastic typology so that it responds to a twenty-first century city location. The intention is that the monastery would form part of the urban fabric, offering possibilities for public inhabitation to establish a spiritual retreat. The use of historic and contemporary monasteries as precedent was therefore limited, given the archetypal trait of contextual resistance, through the use of massive, restricted enclosures to provide an introspective focus. Whilst an introverted, contemplative environment is still desirable in an urban context, a less heavily defensive envelope is required to catalyse a wider communion. A concept of permeability developed from investigations into other communities that exist within and integrate with their surroundings; the public accommodation draws from utopian ideals of the Parisian bookstore ‘Shakespeare & Co.’ and the German Open-Air-Library. The orchard and distillery, which primarily provide an income for the monastery, also form mechanisms to connect with the city’s inhabitants. The artisan craft of cider making is expressed and celebrated through the architecture to create such a dialogue.

The program is a poetic illustration of the condition of man; the orchard representing Adam’s fall from Eden, the library the insatiable desire for knowledge and the overriding monastic function the reconciliation of man with both God and place. The scheme is an unashamed counterpoint to (rather than an ingratiating pastiche) but maintains a sensitivity toward the UNESCO world heritage site. It traces the site’s rich history, alluding to Bath’s medieval abbey through the reinstatement of the orchard and monks’ mill in their historic locations, as well as reconciling the city to the Avon, much neglected in recent years.

The name Monastère de l’Eau de Vie implies several meanings which relate to the past, present and future of Bath; the city’s origins in the sacred springs (believed to hold healing power) the carnality of the present (l’Eau de Vie describes the alcohol produced during distillation) and the spiritual connotations concerning the future of the soul. The resultant scheme is an elaborate celebration of the union between mythos and ethos, clearly rooted in time and place.

Nicholas Shurey

The close of the twentieth century can be looked at simply, even fundamentally as ‘the end’ or else, it can be seen as a thorough change, a period of radical alteration, a rush of endings and beginnings….anointing the next birth with our prayers, fears denials and hopes

Mircea Eliade Rites and Symbols of Initiation forward by Michael Meade Spring Publications 2009

In this project students were asked to develop their own brief and to choose a site that would play a specific part in the wider ambitions of the programme. This then was essentially an exploration into a ‘climate of separations and alienations’ which speculated upon the nature of the Enlightenment and its consequence upon the Modernity arising from it; eloquently summarised by Kenneth Frampton as: ‘The philosophical alienation of the body from the mind has resulted in the absence of embodied experience from almost all contemporary theories of meaning in architecture……’

The project therefore combines an l’eau de vie distillery with a contemporary monastery on an island site adjoining a weir in the centre of historic Bath. It also restores an existing pleasure garden as an orchard. To Frampton’s diagnosis, the student has rightly added ‘spirit’ in the manner of Morris’s hand, head and heart.

The design was almost entirely evolved through tectonic modelling at all scales with each move set against the larger narrative described above. This was an extraordinary process for both student and tutors in so much that the proposal was effectively ‘virtually built’ and thereby tested, much like the construction of a medieval cathedral.

The organisation of the building and indeed the way in which the student worked, interwove ideas of working, thinking and Being as a cohesive, interdependent yet dynamic whole. These were set against two controlling datum; Firstly, the twisting propeller roof which ultimately resolves in the chapel’s trinity of towers each, specifically aligned towards the light qualities pertaining to the three daily monastic offices. Secondly an existing flood defence platform which denotes a line of exchange between unheated distillery spaces and contemplative spaces, merging sacred and profane: as above, so below.

Mr Martin Gledhill
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